Hospital CEOs celebrate historic day, but encourage continued vigilance — as well as need to get vaccinated

Health care workers will be the first people in New Jersey to get the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, because they are on the front line of the fight against the pandemic.

Health care officials understand they are now at the forefront of another battle: Convincing the public that the vaccine is safe — and should be taken by all.

Sheeref Elnahal serves as CEO of University Hospital — where Maritza Beniquez, a registered nurse in the emergency department, became the first person in New Jersey to get the first dose of the vaccine.

He said he hopes Beniquez will be a symbol for all.

“We know that our health care workers’ adoption of this vaccine will be key to convince community members to vaccinate later,” he said. “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.”

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.

The CEOs joined Elnahal is marking the milestone moment.

  • AtlantiCare CEO Lori Herndon: “Getting vaccinated is an important step in ending the far-reaching impacts of COVID-19 we’ve experienced. As leaders within our health care community, our team is proud to begin administering and receiving the vaccine. I am grateful for their unwavering dedication and commitment, for the collaboration with our colleagues and partners across the state, and for all those who entrust us with their care.”
  • Atlantic Health CEO Brian Gragnolati: “For the last 10 months, our team at Atlantic Health System has joined patients, caregivers and communities across the globe in rallying to overcome this virus. Now that we find ourselves on the verge of delivering a safe and effective vaccine, we see the light at the end of the tunnel. Yet, until there is a large enough supply of vaccine to protect everyone, we must continue to follow the guidance we know works: frequent hand washing, masking and responsible social distancing.”
  • Cooper University Health Care co-CEO Kevin O’Dowd: “Despite the challenge of fighting an historic deadly pandemic, we should all take a moment to be grateful that we are living at a time when we can avail ourselves of tremendous health care from remarkable medical professionals and a breakthrough vaccine from dedicated researchers to potentially put an end to COVID-19 in record time.”
  • Hackensack Meridian Health CEO Bob Garrett: “We celebrate this astonishing achievement of developing a safe and effective vaccine in record time. We are excited to be part of history as we start the process of vaccinating the people of New Jersey. It’s imperative that we remain vigilant in our fight against this global enemy on behalf of families, our communities and our health care heroes.”
  • RWJBarnabas Health CEO Barry Ostrowsky: “Throughout the pandemic, New Jersey’s health care providers together continue to help patients fight for their lives. At RWJBarnabas Health, our frontline workers have selflessly and tirelessly been caring for the communities we serve. We’re profoundly grateful to be able to offer our health care heroes this vaccine, which will keep them safe and protect their families and their patients.”

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 health care workers who are paid and unpaid persons serving in health care 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.

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.