TRENTON, N.J. (NEXSTAR) — New Jersey made millions of people eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine, including smokers, a move that prompted gripes about them skipping to the front of the inoculation line.
The decision has prompted a backlash since it allows residents who smoke cigarettes to get the vaccine before some front-line workers, such as teachers and public transit employees.
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy made people 65 and older and those 16 and older with medical conditions eligible to get the vaccine, beginning Thursday. New Jersey’s list of conditions mirrors that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and includes cancer, kidney disease and other illnesses.
Smokers are on the list because they’re at “significant risk” from COVID-19.
“Smoking puts you at significant risk for an adverse result from COVID-19. And there are 2 million smokers in New Jersey that fit into this category,” said the state’s health commissioner, Judith Persichilli at a Wednesday press conference with Gov. Phil Murphy.
On Friday, Gov. Murphy responded to the backlash saying that the idea of smokers jumping the line is a “false narrative” and a “cheap shot,” according to The Star-Ledger.
“I get it. I understand the optics here and that attacking folks who took up the habit of smoking and who are now addicted may be politically expedient,” Murphy said during his Friday address. He also pointed out that New Jersey’s decision to add smokers to those eligible for vaccination was in accordance with federal guidelines.
The state health department points out that nicotine is addictive and that people who smoke should quit.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.