NEW JERSEY – Governor Phil Murphy, joined by Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, University Hospital President and CEO Dr. Shereef Elnahal, and Rutgers New Jersey Medical School Dean Dr. Robert Johnson, Tuesday visited University Hospital’s Vaccine Clinic at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School to mark the historic beginning of New Jersey’s vaccination effort and witness the administration of the first COVID-19 vaccinations to the state’s frontline health care workers.
“This is a day that we have been waiting nearly a year for, and while we know this isn’t the end, we are witnessing, at the least, a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel,” Murphy said. “Without question, we are still in for several hard months and we are going to face stiff headwinds from this second wave, but now our heroic frontline health care workers can begin to take care of their fellow New Jerseyans with a higher degree of confidence in their own protection.”
“Availability of a COVID-19 vaccine within the same year as the epidemic began is a huge scientific achievement, which can help us contain this virus and save lives,” Persichilli said. “We are thankful for our hospitals—who serve communities around the state—for volunteering to provide equitable and efficient access to vaccines to our valued healthcare workforce.”
“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,” said Maritza Beniquez, Resident Nurse, Emergency Department, University Hospital and the first COVID-19 vaccine recipient in New Jersey. “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. 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, which will limit the possibility of me contracting this disease and unknowingly transmitting it to others.”
The federal government has allocated 76,050 first doses to New Jersey for the first tranche of the Pfizer-BioNTech (ultra-cold chain) vaccine, which began arriving at acute care hospitals Monday morning. New Jersey will roll out COVID-19 vaccines step-by-step to serve all adults who live, work, or are being educated in the state. Phasing will ensure that limited vaccines are distributed in a fair and equitable manner. Phase 1A of the plan, which captures approximately 650,000 people, includes healthcare workers who are paid and unpaid persons serving in healthcare settings who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious materials. Acute care hospital workers at highest risk of exposure to COVID-19 will be the first to receive the vaccine.
The Department of Health issued guidance to the all acute care hospitals last week to help prepare for vaccine deployment.
Six acute care hospitals across the state— AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, Cooper University Hospital, Hackensack University Medical Center, Morristown Medical Center, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and University Hospital— are receiving doses this week of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. By the end of the week, vaccines should be available at an additional 47 acute care hospitals that can manage the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which requires ultra-cold chain storage. While acute care hospitals will be the only points of dispensing during the first week of vaccine availability, the network will expand to additional sites like Federally Qualified Health Centers, local health departments, county sites, urgent care clinics, and pharmacies in December, pending vaccine availability.
“University Hospital has had a central role in battling the COVID-19 virus both in Newark and throughout the Garden State. With an effective vaccine now available, the hospital will continue its leadership in this pandemic, by first vaccinating our frontline healthcare heroes through Operation Warp Speed,” Elnahal said. “We know that our health care workers’ adoption of this vaccine will be key to convince community members to vaccinate later. Our health care heroes have been, and continue to be, trusted voices for health care in our community, and we hope that they will carry the message that these vaccines are safe and effective. Widespread vaccination is the most effective step to helping life return to a new normal, and we applaud those members of our workforce for being the first to roll up their sleeves.”
Phase 1A will also include long-term care residents, who are adults who live in facilities that provide a range of services, including medical and personal care, to persons who are unable to live independently. Long-term care facilities will be served on-site through a pharmacy partnership supported by the CDC.
In advance of administration of the first doses in New Jersey, the New Jersey Department of Health’s COVID-19 Professional Advisory Committee (PAC) reviewed the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s usage guidance for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine. The PAC includes New Jersey-specific experts representing both geographic and professional diversity. The current membership includes state officials, epidemiology and immunization experts, public health professionals, health systems and health practitioners, local health champions, infectious and chronic disease providers, ethics and legal experts, equity and inclusion leaders, academics, and health quality advisors.