NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – It took Anthony Patten Jr. a second – if that - to make history Tuesday afternoon.

With the prick of a needle followed by a hastily applied Band-Aid, he became the first staff member at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital to receive a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at 3:22 p.m.

The staff and executives present – and exercising social distancing and mask wearing - broke into applause as pharmacist Mary Bridgeman affixed a “I’m a Big Shot” sticker on Patten’s work scrubs.

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This was a day for the hospital and its staff of more than 5,000 to look back at all the patients they tended to over the past nine months since the first COVID-19 patent entered the hospital’s doors. And it was a day to finally feel hopeful that the hospital’s intensive care unit will be empty someday soon.

Patten, a physician assistant who works with critical care patients in cardiothoracic surgery, was philosophical in his part of this history-making day in New Jersey. He was willing to concede that his contribution “was a little part of history,” but said it paled in comparison to those who developed and tested the vaccine.

He said he wanted to literally roll up his sleeve and be among the first to get the vaccine in hopes that he can set an example for his colleagues.

“I didn’t realize I was going to be the first here at Robert Wood Johnson, but I am glad I am because I feel like if people see someone they know, a regular person like myself, a person who has worked in health care for a long time get it and do well, they might be more apt to do that,” he said. “I think it’s very important that we do it right now.”

Although Patten may have taken a philosophical view of his place in history, there was no masking Gov. Phil Murphy’s emotions - even behind his face mask. Earlier in the day he witnessed Maritza Beniquez, an emergency room nurse at University Hospital in Newark, become the first health care hero to be vaccinated.

"This is hope. This is healing. This is history," Murphy tweeted Tuesday.

Hope - and a shipment of the vaccine - arrived in New Brunswick later in the day. In fact, interim CEO and president Bill Arnold said it arrived at Somerset Street three hours earlier than anticipated.

He said it will take months to accommodate those staff members who want to take the vaccine, but that was a concern for another day. Tuesday was about vaccinating the first group of the hospital's health care heroes and finally glimpsing light in what has been some trying times at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and other hospitals across the country.

“I walk in every morning with the 7 a.m. shift and there’s a feeling, there’s a stress in the environment as folks come it,” Arnold said. “It’s the unknown, the unknown as to when the pandemic will be behind us and what they’ll be faced with when they get to the unit. Now, the unknown was when the vaccine would be delivered and when will it be approved, and we got all those answers today.”

There have been 409,414 confirmed cases, 16,004 confirmed deaths and 1,868 probable deaths in New Jersey since the first case was diagnosed March 4.

For Rosa Herrera, a nurse in the post-intensive care unit, the hardest part was the fact that visitors were prohibited during the first wave. She won’t soon forget having to hold up iPads so families back home could see their loved ones fight for their lives.

“It was so sad,” she said. “This is very emotional for me because I feel like we’re going in the right direction.”