Meet the nurse who was the first person in N.J. to get a COVID-19 vaccine - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

Meet the nurse who was the first person in N.J. to get a COVID-19 vaccine

Taken from

By Brent Johnson | NJ Advance Media

December 15, 2020

Maritza Beniquez was shaking before she even arrived at University Hospital in Newark on Tuesday morning.

Not out of fear, she insisted.

“Just from excitement,” the ER nurse explained. “Like a puppy that’s just really excited.”

With a jab to her right arm at 8:10 a.m., Beniquez became the first person in New Jersey to receive a vaccine for the coronavirus, outside of a clinical trial.

And it just happened to come on her 56th birthday.

“I honestly didn’t plan it this way,” she said. “But it worked out.”

Beniquez was the first of 80 healthcare workers slated to receive their first dose of the vaccine at University Hospital on Tuesday, the beginning of the state’s latest — and most promising — chapter in fighting a virus that has killed more than 17,000 of its residents.

All recipients will receive their second dose of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine a few weeks after their first, officials said.

“This is the best birthday present ever,” Beniquez exclaimed after receiving the shot, which she said didn’t hurt. “I can see that light at the end of the tunnel.”

A mother of three and grandmother of two, Beniquez has worked in the ER at University Hospital for the last five years. It’s usually a busy place, she said, but COVID-19 “was like our worst nightmare.”

“It was just wave after wave of critically ill patients coming in, with no end in sight,” she said. “It was like watching a tornado or a hurricane cause that sort of devastation in the field — but instead of it being buildings it was our own people, our Black and Latino communities.”

Beniquez stressed the vaccine will help put her at ease.

“I’m happy that in another month and a half, I won’t have to be afraid to go into a room anymore,” she said. “I won’t have to be afraid to perform chest compressions or be present when they’re intubating a patient.”

“I don’t want to be afraid anymore, and I don’t want to have that risk of taking it home to my own family and my own friends,” Beniquez added. “We have no choice. We can’t afford to lose any more people.”

The vaccine is expected to be given to healthcare workers at five other hospitals across the state Tuesday, with others following in the coming days. Longterm care residents are also slated to be among the first recipients. A broader rollout for the general public is expected by April or May.

Officials hope to get 70% of New Jersey’s adult population vaccinated — a lofty goal considering some polls showing some people do not want to take it.

Beniquez, who is Latina, said she’s sympathetic to people — especially minorities — who are concerned about whether the vaccine is safe.

“I understand their fears, I do,” she said. “But I’m here to say to my community, to my people, to my Latinos, to my Blacks, to just everyone around the world: This vaccine is safe. I wouldn’t take it if it wasn’t safe. I have a family, too. I am just like you.”

She noted that officials say it’s 95% effective.

“I’ll take that over the Russian Roulette that we have to play” with the virus, Beniquez said.

Beniquez said her daughter cried out of worry as she prepared to take the vaccine.

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