An emergency room nurse at Newark's University Hospital became the first person in New Jersey to receive the COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, a "historic" moment in the state's ongoing war against the coronavirus, Gov. Phil Murphy said.
Maritza Beniquez said it was her birthday as the vaccination was administered.
“I couldn’t wait for this moment,” Beniquez said. “My experience during the COVID-19 pandemic has been that of so many of my healthcare peers, and during the first wave, we faced an unprecedented volume of critically ill patients from all walks of life and adult populations.
“As a woman of color, I stand in solidarity with my community and know that we are three times more likely to suffer the catastrophic effects of this disease," she added. "Although I am living proof that PPE functions and has kept me safe while at work, I’m honored to be the first person in New Jersey to receive this vaccine."
Murphy and other officials were on hand at the hospital to witness the historic event. The governor later thanked Beniquez in a tweet.
"Our fight to protect every life now moves in an entirely new direction," Murphy went on to say. "As more vaccine shipments arrive, our vaccination program will become much more robust over the coming weeks."
Like most states, New Jersey is prioritizing healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents and staff for initial vaccinations. The hope is to ensure every New Jerseyan has access by April or May, the governor's team has said.
Much time remains between now and then. While Murphy has, like others, declared the arrival of the vaccine as the light at the end of the tunnel, he acknowledges the tunnel is long. The governor has warned some of the most brutal months lie ahead as the state struggles to beat back its most significant viral increases in months. The numbers have continued to rise.
More than 700 patients with COVID-19 are in intensive care units in hospitals across the state for the first time since May. Daily death tolls are on the rise, too. The 97 new deaths reported Tuesday are the most amid this latest surge; also Tuesday, the state eclipsed 16,000 confirmed COVID deaths, the fifth-most in the country, according to Johns Hopkins data.
The state counts an additional nearly 2,000 fatalities that weren't definitely linked via diagnosis but likely are attributable to the virus in some way. Murphy continues to plead with the residents of New Jersey to hang tight and continue practicing proven precautions until vaccines become more widely available.
More Pfizer shipments will be coming this month, beginning with about 76,000 doses this week and another 86,000 next week. The Pfizer vaccine requires ultra-cold storage and will be administered only at hospitals for now. More than 50 hospitals across the state will be receiving doses by the end of the week.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will consider Moderna’s vaccine for approval later this week and, if approved, New Jersey will also be receiving tens of thousands of doses of that vaccine this month. The FDA confirmed that the Moderna vaccine is equally as effective as Pfizer's at preventing symptoms and infection and also requires two shots, but does have one key difference: It does not require the same deep cold refrigeration that Pfizer's need, but rather can be transported and stored in freezers similar to those in homes.
Across the river, New York doled out its first vaccine doses on Monday. Seventy-three healthcare workers in the city got their initial shots. Nearly 41,000 doses are expected to be available at 42 hospitals in the five boroughs on Tuesday.
"This is going to really speed up," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "Our hospitals are ready."