CEO of Newark Hospital Says Demand for Covid Vaccines Is Way Up in NJ's Biggest City

Eduardo Munoz | Reuters
  • University Hospital CEO Dr. Shereef Elnahal told CNBC on Monday that more people in Newark, New Jersey, and nearby areas want the Covid vaccine.
  • Initially, he said, about 40% of people were willing to get it.
  • "Now that number is closer to 60%" in the communities his hospital serves, Elnahal said.

Dr. Shereef Elnahal, president and CEO of University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, told CNBC on Monday that a majority of people in the nearby community want to receive the Covid vaccine, a shift from earlier in the rollout.

"There is a significant amount of hesitancy, especially in communities of color and urban communities like the one we serve here in Newark," the state's biggest city, Elnahal said on "Worldwide Exchange." "The good news, though, is that hesitancy is moving in the right direction."

"We had only about 40% of the city of Newark and the surrounding region ready and willing to take the vaccine when it arrived. Now that number is closer to 60%," added Elnahal, a former New Jersey health commissioner under Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy.

Elnahal's comments come as the Covid vaccine rollout in the U.S. accelerates.

On Saturday, a record 2.9 million doses were administered, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overall, a total of more than 90 million Covid doses have been given.

In all, 17.7% of the U.S. population of over 330 million people have gotten at least one dose, and 9.2% were fully vaccinated with both doses of either Pfizer's or Moderna's two-shot regime.

Johnson & Johnson's single-shot vaccine became the third one to receive emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Feb. 27.

The CDC vaccine tracker numbers do not yet explicitly break out how many shots of J&J have been given, as it only started rolling out in the U.S. last week.

While the vaccination pace has picked up in recent weeks and eligibility has widened, some health experts, such as former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, have warned that the pool of Americans eager to receive the shot could dry up sooner than expected.

"I think demand here ... is deep but not wide," Gottlieb, a Pfizer board member, told CNBC last month. "There's probably about, maybe, 100 million Americans that want this very badly. Beyond that, we're going to have to work on it."

Shortly after the FDA cleared Pfizer's vaccine for emergency use, some hospital leaders speculated that hesitancy even among their workforces would fade over time as skeptical employees saw their colleagues receiving the shots.

Indeed, the U.S. public's desire to be vaccinated against Covid has risen in recent months. According to a Pew Research Center poll from earlier this month, 69% plan to get a Covid vaccine or have already received it. That's an improvement from Pew's findings in November — a month before either Pfizer or Moderna formally got FDA clearance — that only 60% of Americans intended to be vaccinated.

Polls have shown Black and Latino people to be more skeptical of the vaccines than the U.S. overall due to historic mistreatment in medicine. Disparities along racial lines in vaccine distribution also have been observed in the U.S.

Elnahal said University Hospital — a teaching hospital for the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School — has done various outreach programs to try to build trust in Covid vaccines.

"When we go through that door of trust and ultimately say, 'Hey, we're here with an initiative that will save your life potentially,' especially in a community that was hit so hard," Elnahal said, "we also emphasize that all three of these vaccines are 100% effective at preventing hospitalization and death [from Covid]."

"That is huge, and frankly, these vaccines are better than so many others that have been on the market for a long time" for other diseases, he added.

Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor and is a member of the boards of Pfizer, genetic testing start-up Tempus, health-care tech company Aetion and biotech company Illumina. He also serves as co-chair of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings' and Royal Caribbean's "Healthy Sail Panel." 

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