“The more people we can get with shots in arms, the more lives we are going to save,” Dr. Reboli said. “It becomes dangerous when you know that something is a major risk factor and to then cherry pick off that list.”
Other states, however, appear to have done just that. New Mexico and Texas have made people with other high-risk medical conditions eligible for the vaccine, but not smokers. Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts and North Carolina include smokers, but not until later phases.
Getting on the list of people eligible for the rationed vaccine is one thing. Securing an appointment for a shot is another.
Officials running a county vaccine site in Kearny, N.J., said on Friday that they had gotten 3,500 requests within 24 hours of the state’s announcement of expanded eligibility, yet they expected to have exhausted their initial vaccine supply by Monday. They said they were hopeful of getting more doses by Tuesday.
In Bergen County, an early epicenter of the virus in New Jersey, slots for Holy Name Medical Center’s vaccine clinic were filled within hours of being made available online — even before the pool of eligible people grew.
Dr. Adam Jarrett, the chief medical officer of Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, N.J., said having too many people eligible to be vaccinated is better than having too few, and he praised the state’s broad expansion. Over the past month, before eligibility was expanded, the hospital sometimes found itself with extra doses of thawed vaccine at the end of the day.
No vaccine went to waste, Dr. Jarrett said, but that required effort.
“We would literally walk up and down the halls and call hospital staff members,” Dr. Jarrett said. “This vaccine is gold, and we don’t want to waste a single dose.”
Now, he said, the challenge was getting more vaccine from the federal government.
“We need to open it up,” Dr. Jarrett said. “When you get vaccinated you’re doing it for yourself, but you’re also doing it for the broader community.”
Kevin Armstrong contributed reporting.