NEW JERSEY – Not everyone gets a shot in the arm on her birthday and smiles about it but for University Hospital nurse Maritza Beniquez it was a historic occasion. She clapped and smiled, becoming the first healthcare worker in New Jersey to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on December 14.
She told Governor Phil Murphy, colleagues and hospital administrators that “it is like the light at the end of the tunnel” as everyone present wished her a happy 56th birthday and congratulated her.
“It is my birthday today. This is a great way to celebrate my birthday,” Beniquez said. “I am very excited, very excited. I couldn’t wait for this moment to hit the country and New Jersey. I am so happy.”
University Hospital, based in Newark, was one of six in the state to receive the Pfizer vaccine that day. An additional 53 hospitals in the state were expected to receive their supply later in the week.
The hospital lost 11 staff members to COVID-19. It treated more than 1,200 coronavirus patients, 269 of whom died.
“This is a big day,” the governor said. The shipments were part of the first wave Operation Warp Speed, a partnership with the federal government that helped bring the vaccines to healthcare facilities across the U.S.
Benitez’s immunization marks the first of millions to come in the next six months for New Jersey residents, starting with healthcare workers.
The governor said, “we know this isn’t the end, we are witnessing, at the least, a glimmer of hope.”.
The coronavirus has claimed lives of more than 300,000 people in the nation since March. The governor and health officials noted that the state will be facing some difficult months ahead with the second wave of the pandemic but through efforts of front-line health care workers there will be a higher degree of confidence in their own protection.”
“We’ll see you in 21 days,” a colleague joked noting that the second of the two doses of the vaccine would need to be taken at that time.