ATLANTIC CITY — “After getting it, there’s an overwhelming sense of optimism,” said Dr. Manish Trivedi, chairman of infectious disease at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center.
Trivedi was the first AtlantiCare hospital employee to be vaccinated Tuesday at the city campus with the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech that received emergency use authorization Friday evening by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“It feels like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Trivedi, of Linwood. “The last nine months have been challenging in our field, infectious diseases. You learn about pandemics, you train for something like this, but you never expect it to happen.”
AtlantiCare was one of six hospitals statewide that received some of the 76,000 doses of the vaccine as part of the initial rollout in New Jersey. Emergency room nurse Maritza Beniquez at Newark’s University Hospital was the first in the state to receive the vaccine and was joined by Gov. Phil Murphy and other state officials early Tuesday morning.
AtlantiCare began administering 55 of its 975 doses just before 2:30 p.m. to its frontline workers.
“It’s a historic day,” AtlantiCare President and CEO Lori Herndon said.
Hazel Smolens, an emergency room nurse from Egg Harbor Township, said the vaccine felt similar to a flu shot. She said it was “awesome” to be among the first in the state to receive the vaccine.
“It feels more like a safety net,” Smolens said. “This pandemic can be a little less scary.”
Marvin Graham, a housekeeper at the hospital and pastor in Northfield, said prayer and Trivedi gave him the confidence to receive the vaccine Tuesday.
“I was ready to go,” said Graham, of Egg Harbor Township, adding he wanted to set a positive example for his church congregation. “I feel good. I’m glad I made the choice right now.”
AtlantiCare is expecting another delivery of the vaccine in the coming days, Herndon said.
“Our goal is to for every employee who wants a vaccine to get a vaccine,” she said.
Hospital workers are part of the first phase of the state’s vaccination plan, which also includes long-term care patients, licensed health care workers, hospital volunteers, health care office staff such as receptionists, lab technicians, consultants and contractors, and school nurses.
According to The Associated Press, New Jersey is expected to get another two shipments of the Pfizer vaccine this month, including 86,000 next week. The Pfizer vaccine requires ultra-cold storage and will be administered only at hospitals for now, the AP reported.
The FDA will consider Moderna’s vaccine for emergency use authorization later this week. If the Moderna vaccine is approved, the state will receive about 150,000 doses next week, state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said. The vaccines will be available later this month at local health departments, county sites, urgent care clinics, and pharmacies.
Many of those receiving the vaccine Tuesday at AtlantiCare said they hoped their actions would assure those who have fears about getting vaccinated.
“I think this is the beginning of the end. The new future, the new front. I just wanted to be one of them who takes it first and gets the angst amongst my colleagues and staff to a minimal level, because everybody’s unsure at this point,” said Dr. Sanjay Shetty, a cardiologist who serves as chief medical officer of the Heart and Vascular Institute at AtlantiCare. “I think we need to set an example because our patients believe in us. They trust us, our advice, and if we can set that path forward, they will follow us.”
Maureen Watson, an emergency room trauma nurse from Ocean City, administered the vaccines to her coworkers Tuesday and said she planned on getting the shot before the end of the day.
“There’s a lot of fear, but the vaccine’s not going to work if people don’t get it. And there should not be fear, there shouldn’t be,” Watson said.
She said the emergency rooms and trauma rooms are overwhelmed.
“You may get a little bit of a fever or some body aches from this. That’s nothing compared to having COVID,” Watson said.
Meanwhile, Shore Medical Center in Somers Point is expecting to begin vaccinating its employees later this week, and Atlantic County officials are vying for a top spot in vaccine distribution among residents.
The Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders on Tuesday night approved a resolution in support of an offer by Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson to the state for the county to assist the state Department of Health as a pilot program site for COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
The resolution cites the overwhelming economic loss in the county due to the pandemic ravaging the hospitality and tourism industry and resulting in the highest job loss in the country.
The board also passed a resolution to contract with a pool of nurses and agencies to provide COVID-19 vaccinations in Atlantic County next year, at a cost not to exceed $100,000.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.