By Stephanie Stahl

NEWARK, N.J. (CBS) — Nine long months after the start of the pandemic, health care workers in South Jersey became the first people in our area to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. It’s a massive undertaking coordinating 76,000 doses of vaccine arriving just this week.

It will be divided between hospitals and long-term care facilities.

The first to be injected today in New Jersey were thrilled.

“I’ve been looking forward to this opportunity to make history and to begin the progress towards ending the pandemic,” said Dr. Guy Hewlett, an OBGYN at Cooper Hospital.

Dr. Hewlett was among the first group at the hospital to get the COVID vaccine in Camden.

“I’m delighted to be here making history, taking this first step,” Dr. Hewlett said.

“We’re hopeful today marks the beginning of the end,” said Cooper Hospital CEO Kevin O’Dowd.

Nurse manager Rosetta Oliver says, with the vaccine, she’s looking forward to traveling and being able to see her family again.

“I’m just very excited,” Oliver said. “You want to protect yourself, you want to protect your family.”

Gov. Phil Murphy was in Newark for the first shots there.

“Now that fight to protect every life moves in an entirely new direction,” Murphy said.

It was a welcome birthday present for 56-year-old Maritza Beniquez. The emergency room nurse was the first to be vaccinated at University Hospital.

“As a woman of color and a Latina, I know we are three times more likely to suffer the catastrophic events or the catastrophic effects of this disease. So, for me, it has been important to receive this vaccine,” Beniquez said.

Health care workers are the first to get vaccinated because taking care of COVID patients increases their risk of being infected.

“I feel great. I’m excited. I’m happy that in another two months, month-and-a-half, I won’t have to be afraid to go in a room anymore. I won’t have to be afraid to perform chest compressions, or to be present when they’re intubating a patient, or giving a breathing treatment that’s necessary,” Beniquez said. “I don’t want to be afraid anymore and I don’t want to have that risk to take it home to my own family, to my own friends and to my neighbors and people who live in my community, so I am elated. I thank you father God for this moment.”

University Hospital says it will be vaccinating about 600 people a day.

More vaccine is now in the process of being delivered to hospitals across New Jersey. A steady stream is expected, especially if the Moderna vaccine is cleared later this week.

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Stephanie Stahl