Several New Jersey health care workers received their second dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on the morning of Jan. 4, as the state and nation fall behind a December goal for administering the vaccine.
Maritza Beniquez, an emergency room nurse at University Hospital in Newark, received her second dose on Monday, after she was the recipient of the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in New Jersey on Dec. 15.
Beniquez’s vaccination, according to New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, marked a “historic day” for the state. Persichilli and Gov. Phil Murphy were on hand for the inaugural shot last month, as well as the one on Jan. 4.
“I now have body armor,” Beniquez remarked immediately after she received the dosage. “At the end of this month I will be 95% immune. That’s a big deal.”
The state and national vaccination rollout have been plagued by delays, as the Trump administration puts the responsibility on cash-strapped state and local health departments.
Federal officials promised that 20 million COVID-19 vaccine doses would be administered by the end of December. Instead the nation administered roughly 3 million doses, or about 20% of the available supply, according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And of the 265,000 Moderna and Pfizer doses New Jersey received in December, the shot was administered to 72,657 residents by the end of the month, leaving over 70% of doses unused.
State health officials lamented the lack of personnel to deliver the vaccine, and problems with logistics and the timing of dosage delivery.
“We are in the process of setting up hundreds of these [vaccination] locations, some of them are going to be mega sites, and we have to schedule,” the governor said at a Dec. 30 COVID-19 briefing. “Remember, you need health care workers to do this. I’m not qualified to deliver these vaccines.”
As of Monday, 101,476 New Jerseyans received the COVID -19 vaccination, most of them the first dosage, out of the 400,000 doses the state has received.
Two of the six mega-sites are slated to open this week – one at Rockaway Townsquare in Morris County and the other at Rowan College in Gloucester County – according to Persichilli.
Persichilli contended last week that the arrival of the Moderna doses shortly before Christmas led to inevitable delays, and that many were simply worried about getting the vaccine before the holidays for fear of falling ill.
“People after the holidays will be lining up,” she said on Monday.
The federal COVID-19 relief bill includes billions of dollars to bolster local rollouts of the vaccine.
The vaccination process is a key component of getting the COVID-19 pandemic under control, and lifting the myriad of business restrictions put in place to halt the spread of the virus.
Nationally, COVID-19 fatalities, daily cases and hospitalizations have hit all-time record highs. While those metrics in New Jersey are considerably higher than they were in the summer and rival those seen during the first wave, they began to plateau in late December.
Under the state’s vaccine plan, health care workers will be among the first segment of the state population to receive the COVID-19 shot, known as Group 1A.
Long-term care residents – such as at senior centers, veterans and group homes – as well as psychiatric hospitals, and inmates and correctional staff, are also part of this group.
Group 1B would include frontline essential workers – like transit workers, firefighters and food service workers – and adults over the age of 75. Group 1C includes other essential workers, and those living in crowded conditions, such as college students.
Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told ABC News over the weekend that the U.S. could begin vaccinating as many as 1 million people a day by as soon as mid-January.
“[S]ome little glimmer of hope is that in the last 72 hours they’ve gotten 1.5 million doses into people’s arms, which is an average of about 500,000 a day,” he said on Jan. 3.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated on Jan. 4, 2021 at 1:52 p.m. to add the total number of New Jerseyans that received a COVID-19 vaccination.