New Jersey is about to take the first step in a months-long journey that will state officials hope will, eventually, beat back the worst pandemic in modern history and prompt a return to normal life.

But it won't happen overnight, they warn.

New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said the first shipments of Pfizer's novel coronavirus arrived at University Hospital in Newark and Hackensack Meridian Health, formally known as Hackensack University Medical Center, on Monday morning.

On Tuesday morning, those vaccines will begin to be given to front-line healthcare workers at University Hospital, and then to healthcare workers at 51 other medical centers around the state, as well as to residents of long-term care facilities across New Jersey.

“It’s a day we have all been waiting for. It is a day for hope and optimism of getting to the other side,” said Gov. Phil Murphy during his coronavirus update on Monday.

Persichilli said 76,050 doses – each patient requires two doses – will be delivered to Garden State hospitals this week and “approximately 86,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine are expected next week. The actual doses will be confirmed to us every Saturday.”

She said 54,000 doses of vaccine will be distributed at hospitals this week, with the remainder going to long-term care facilities.

Persichilli pointed out even as New Jersey begins to receive tens of thousands of Pfizer vaccines this week and next, a Moderna vaccine could be approved by the FDA by the end of this week. Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna version doesn't require storage in extremely cold conditions, opening up more opportunities for distribution without special facilities. If all goes according to plan, New Jersey could receive 154,000 doses of that vaccine early next week.

She said after that, a second shipment containing 65,000 Moderna vaccines will arrive the following week.

She said the list of Moderna vaccine distribution sites, which will include 18 hospitals and dozens of community health care providers, is being finalized this week.

"Our hopes are, for timing, that as one group of vaccine recipients receives their second dose a new traunch of recipients will be receiving their first," Murphy said.

The Pfizer vaccine must be given in 2 doses, 21 days apart and the Moderna vaccine is also a 2 shot vaccine, given 28 days apart.

Murphy said as more vaccine shipments arrive “our vaccination program will become much more robust over the coming weeks.”

However the governor said for New Jersey to reach a state of “herd immunity” where the spread of the virus is largely controlled and the pandemic begins to wane. “it will require at least 70, that’s 7-0 percent of New Jersey’s adults to be vaccinated. That is roughly, for those of you keeping score at home, 4.7 million of us.”

That could be a challenge – with polls suggesting about half of people say they won't take the vaccine. The polls also demonstrate high rates of skepticism and concern among healthcare workers. Murphy said the state won't require healthcare workers to get vaccinated, but he's hopeful most will.

To reach the goal of 70 percent, Murphy said, we will “have to work against vaccine misinformation and skepticism.”

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“That light we see is the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “But we have to travel more before we are through this darkness.”

Murphy also stressed this means continuing to wear a mask, social distance, wash hands and steer clear of crowds indoors.

He noted even as the vaccine program moves forward, New Jersey expects to face “stiff headwinds” from the COVID second wave, which will mean thousands of new coronavirus cases and growing number of hospitalizations, patients in the ICU, and deaths.

The governor stressed state officials are confident the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine are safe.

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