NJ plans to allow COVID vaccines for dentists and ophthalmologists

TRENTON — New Jerseyans could soon get a COVID-19 shot from their dentist or eye doctor, under bills approved by an Assembly committee.

Two weeks ago, state health commissioner Judy Persichilli authorized dentists, paramedics and other health care providers to help administer COVID-19 injections on any which state vaccination site. The state’s proposed law could go further to also include flu and HPV vaccines.

Jim Schulz, director of government and public affairs for the New Jersey Dental Association, said dentists are clearly essential health care providers and more than capable of administering vaccines.

“There isn’t a medical profession that does more needlework than dentists,” Schulz said. “It’s their existence, work with needles.”

Under the bill, dentists could only provide vaccines to people 18 or older. It started when she was 7 years old, involving Claudine Leone, a government affairs advisor for the New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians.

“It’s not just about sticking a needle in your arm. There’s a lot more that goes into this,” Leone said.

Dentists can now administer vaccines in Illinois, Minnesota and Oregon, said Dr. Mark Vitale, a dentist at Edison and former president of the New Jersey Dental Association.

“Our goal is not to mandate or recommend that dentists administer vaccines,” Vitale said. “Our goal is to make it available to dentists who feel they can provide it in any setting, whether it’s their office or their hospital, under the direction of state regulations, when they feel comfortable doing so.”

HPV can infect the mouth and throat and is believed to cause 70% of throat cancers in the United States, according to the CDC, which recommends the vaccine for everyone up to age 26 and for some adults up to at 45 years old.

Joseph Simonetta, a lobbyist representing the American Academy of Pediatrics, said there was a difference between allowing dentists and optometrists to administer vaccines at mega-sites and in their practices. He said the latter increases the likelihood that some doses will go unused and be thrown away.

“Once that packet is opened, if there’s not a line of people to get vaccinated, that shot is wasted, can’t be re-chilled, if you will,” Simonetta said.

Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, backed the bills in the Assembly Health Committee, but agrees care must be taken to ensure COVID vaccine doses do not sit unused .

“We’re talking about something right now that’s almost like gold right now,” Conaway said.

The Optometrists Bill would only apply during the public health emergency.

Dr. Christopher Quinn, who practices in the Iselin section of Woodbridge and past president of the New Jersey Society of Optometric Physicians and American Optometric Physicians, said optometrists have the skills and training to help New Jersey achieve its vaccine goals.

“Optometrists can help close access gaps, improve health equity, and enable meaningful scale-up of the COVID-19 vaccine program,” Quinn said.

New Jersey’s goal is to vaccinate 70% of the population, or about 4.7 million adults, in six months, that is, by May. In the first month, it administered the first doses to approximately 325,000 people, or 3.7% of the population. Just over 40,000 people, or 0.5% of the population, received two doses.

Where to get the COVID-19 vaccine in New Jersey