More than a million New Jersey adults have now received both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and are considered to be fully immune from the coronavirus. New Jersey has given out a total of 3 million doses.

State health officials are encouraged that 9 out of 10 people who get their first dose are returning for the second. That means by mid-April, the state could be more than half-way to the goal of vaccinating 70% of the adult population. That, says Gov. Murphy, is the key milestone to fully reopening the state.

If the state continues on the current pace, and vaccine supplies continue to increase, we could see major restrictions lifted in time for the summer.

The biggest wildcard factor that could derail reopening plans is the rise of COVID-19 mutations. At least four variants have been detected in New Jersey. The mutations first discovered in the U.K., Brazil, South Africa and New York City spread more easily, but are not thought to cause more severe illness.

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There is also incomplete data about whether they are resistant to current vaccines. Some preliminary studies show the mutations are able to more easily slip by the anti-body defenses created from the vaccine. In Europe, a third wave of coronavirus fueled by these variants has triggered a new series of lockdowns.

British health officials are predicting the vaccines that have been approved for emergency use will quickly lose effectiveness and regular boosters will be needed. The boosters will beef up immunity to the original COVID strain as well as any mutations.

Monitoring for the variants has been a struggle. Not everyone is tested for the different strains, in part, because it is expensive and time consuming. Rutgers has announced they have developed a cheaper and faster test. Pharma giant Roche has also announced their own monitoring effort to track variants.

It will bear watching our neighbors in Pennsylvania over the next few weeks. That state's governor has announced the further easing of restrictions on indoor dining and other businesses. As of April 4, capacity for eating inside will be increased to 75% and patrons will be allowed to sit at the bar. Pennsylvania health officials have confirmed the presence of COVID mutations but have provided little data on the number of cases.

Murphy has been slow to lift New Jersey's restrictions, and has cited the rise in variants as the reason why. On Friday, the indoor dining limit will be increased to 50%, but bar service is still not allowed. If Pennsylvania sees a sharp spike in COVID cases with the easing of their restrictions, the likelihood of Murphy easing our restriction will grow dimmer.

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