The first doses were administered to health care workers at Essex County College on Saturday, CBS2's Christina Fan reported.
For Dr. Lionel Anciette, getting one of the first shots of the Moderna vaccine in Essex County felt symbolic on the first day of Kwanzaa.
He says the vaccine isn't just for himself but for vulnerable inmates he oversees at the Essex County Correctional Facility.
"The corrections division, we deal with all of the folks that people don't want to deal with, and what we're finding out is that they are afraid," Anciette said.
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Essex County was hit by COVID the hardest, accounting for nearly 10% of total cases in New Jersey. Because of tremendous need, five vaccination centers with rows of cubicles are being set up across the county, including at Essex County College.
"We have an opportunity of a lifetime. There is hope ahead. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Let's be successful," Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo said.
More than 27,000 health care workers in New Jersey have already received the first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. Nurses say after witnessing the horrors of the virus, the decision came easy.
"When you're standing next to the bedside and you see a nurse, like myself, gasping for air and is almost on a respirator, I mean what choice do you really have at this point?" nurse Bonnie Rogers said. "If this is going to help prevent and give us a piece of mind... take the vaccine."
By setting an example, these front line volunteers are hoping the general population will put aside their fears and follow suit.
"Herd immunity will only start if those on the front lines themselves set an example by taking the vaccine," Dr. Naipaul Rambaran, with Essex County Hospital Center, said.
To achieve that herd immunity, the state's goal is to vaccine 70% of the adult population, about 4.7 million people, within the next six months.
Starting on Monday, vaccinations will roll out at long-term care facilities. The state allocated 55,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine for nursing home staff and vulnerable residents.
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CBS2's Christina Fan contributed to this report.
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