Teachers in New Jersey are furious over the state's vaccination rollout, which gives priority to smokers over educators. Now that some 300,000 coronavirus vaccine doses have been administered to frontline health care workers, residents of long-term care homes, police officers, and firefighters, New Jersey has begun offering vaccines to anyone 65 or older, anyone with preexisting conditions, and—to the ire of teachers—anyone who smokes. "Smoking puts you at significant risk for an adverse result from COVID-19," state Department of Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli tells NJ.com, which reports there are 2 million smokers between the ages of 16 and 64 in the state. For some teachers, this feels like rewarding a bad habit. For them, smoking is optional, but putting their health on the line to return to the classroom is not.
"I think the prioritizing of smokers as a group has insulted educators" and "[we're] rather incensed," Susan McBride, president of the Bergen County Education Association, tells NJ.com. She says Wednesday's expansion of the rollout was especially hurtful as teachers "were very much led to believe that we were imminent in the hierarchy of vaccine recipients." Anthony Rosamilia, president of the Essex County Education Association, says it's not just teachers who are upset. The "general public is not happy" that a person's dangerous habit (read addiction) makes them eligible for a vaccine before someone who chooses not to smoke, he says. But experts say it's a smart move if the goal is to reduce hospitalizations, and health officials aren't backtracking. "Our goal is to save as many lives as possible," a Health Department rep says, per NBC New York. (Read more New Jersey stories.)