After months of uncertainty, New Jersey took its first, albeit small, step towards ending the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday as the state began administering Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to frontline health care workers just days after it was approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration.
Maritza Beniquez, a 56-year-old emergency room nurse, was the first New Jerseyan to receive the vaccine Tuesday morning at Newark’s University Hospital.
“As more vaccine shipments arrive, our vaccination program will become much more robust over the coming weeks,” Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted Tuesday. “It is our hope that, soon enough, our attention will be able to turn to vaccinating the general public.”
At a press conference Friday, Murphy said the state anticipated that the first distribution would include 76,000 doses of the vaccine, with the earliest doses going to nursing homes and hospitals. Additional shipments of the vaccine will arrive weekly, Murphy said.
The vaccine, developed by Pfizer through a partnership with the German-based company BioNTech, requires two shots — an initial shot and a booster shot three weeks later — meaning that the 76,000 doses expected by the state will vaccinate 38,000 people.
The FDA will meet to discuss approving another vaccine candidate, developed by Moderna, for emergency use authorization on Thursday.
Despite the vaccine rollout, cases in New Jersey are still on the rise, with the state reporting 4,111 new cases Tuesday. Over 300 of those cases were reported in Essex County.
“Today is a day worth celebrating,” Murphy tweeted just before the first vaccination Tuesday. “No one should be mistaken that we are still in for several hard months.”
According to New Jersey’s interim COVID-19 vaccination plan, released in October, the state predicts it will take one million doses of a two-dose vaccine, like Pfizer’s, to fully innoculate the state’s healthcare workers.
Essential workers, such as first responders and educators, as well as individuals at higher risk of serious COVID-19 infection are also included in phase one distribution.
When there is a “large amount” of supply available, the state will then shift to phase two of its vaccine distribution and will include individuals remaining from phase one as well as “critical populations,” a group that includes colleges and universities. The general population — which consists of all individuals who live, work or are educated in the state — will also be included in stage two.
Phase three of the rollout will begin as the demand for the vaccine begins to wane and will cover the remaining individuals from phase two.
The state has yet to provide an estimate of when the state will enter phase two of distribution, but Seton Hall’s Health Intervention Communication Team warned Thursday that students may not be vaccinated for “many weeks.”
“The vaccine news is very encouraging,” the Team’s email to students said. “Please do not fall victim to pandemic fatigue. Follow the Seton Hall Pledge. We need to stay strong, together, through the cold, pre-vaccination months ahead.”
Daniel O’Connor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @itsDanOConnor