Two States Are Currently Giving The COVID Vaccine To Smokers Of Any Age

by Julie Scagell
Scary Mommy and SrdjanPav/Getty

In New Jersey and Mississippi, smokers can get vaccinated now

New Jersey just expanded its coronavirus vaccine distribution this week, announcing that anyone 65 or older can now get the shots, as well as those between the ages of 16-64 with certain medical conditions, including being a smoker. Now the state of Jersey joins Mississippi as the only two states currently offering the vaccine to those with underlying health conditions where “smoking” is listed as one of the “conditions,” and many find the move to be controversial.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices advises smokers to be vaccinated in phase 1c but according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, New Jersey and Mississippi are vaccinating that group now as “being a smoker of any age” counts towards their list of having an underlying medical conditions, which also includes cancer, heart conditions, and diabetes.

In New Jersey, The New York Times reports that no documentation of any underlying health condition is required to prove that one has any of the listed conditions and smokers now move ahead in the vaccine priority line before some essential workers — including teachers, which many find controversial. Other states do plan to include smokers in the tier that allows individuals age 16-64 to get the vaccine, but only New Jersey and Mississippi are doing it now — as basically every other state is still only vaccinating healthcare workers and the elderly.

“Smoking puts you at a significant risk for and adverse result from covid-19,” New Jersey state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said at a Wednesday news conference, defending the decision.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced the changes on Wednesday as the state plays catch-up with vaccinations that have failed to meet immunization targets. As of Thursday, at least 263,422 first doses had been administered in New Jersey, covering 7.5 percent of the prioritized population, according to the Washington Post.

Some argue that smokers are choosing to put themselves at higher risk, and many others that remain at high-risk due to exposure, like teachers, should be prioritized. Others feel smoking is an addiction and that smokers may have a higher risk of serious illness if they do test positive for COVID-19, considering COVID’s assault on the lungs.

“There’s a very steep and judgmental slippery slope when we start to say that one group or the other does not deserve vaccines based on your health behavior, particularly when we understand smoking to be a substance use disorder,” Esther Choo, an emergency physician and professor at Oregon Health and Science University, told The Washington Post.

Other states, however, have taken a different approach. The Times reports 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.

At the end of the day, this country is falling behind on doling out vaccines and each state can interpret the CDC’s priority schedule how they see fit, so some are arguing that the U.S. just needs to get that shot into as many arms as possible. It’s certainly a brave new world.