The vaccination of nursing home residents and staff began in Connecticut on Friday, with the first doses administered at The Reservoir in West Hartford.
By Ronni Newton
Hope, in the form of small vials of liquid, arrived in the West Hartford community Friday morning as the process of vaccinating the state’s nursing home residents and staff began at The Reservoir.
Exactly nine months ago, on March 18, the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in a Connecticut nursing home.
On Friday, Jeanne Peters, 95, was the first resident of The Reservoir, a nursing home owned by Genesis HealthCare, to receive the vaccine, which officials said marks the true beginning of the end of the pandemic. For safety, only staff and a small number of officials and a photographer who had been tested in advance were permitted inside to witness the vaccination.
Before Peters received her vaccination, Genesis HealthCare Chief Medical Officer Rich Feifer, and several employees of The Reservoir, rolled up their sleeves, braving the freezing cold temperatures but smiling behind their masks as they received their first doses of the contents of the “vials of hope” – the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
When it was her turn to take a seat in the chair and publicly receive the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Sophia Walker, a registered nurse who works at The Reservoir, said getting vaccinated Friday morning was the right thing to do. “I know I’m setting a great example for the Black community,” she added.
“COVID-19 has wreaked havoc in the world, and those most vulnerable among us, those who live in long-term care facilities like the one behind me, they have felt the brunt of the impact,” Feifer told reporters at an outdoor news conference held before the vaccines were administered. Even the most stringent infection practices can have limited effect, he said, when there is community spread.
“Today is a historic day and this vaccine is pivotal in our ability to end this pandemic,” said Feifer.
The Reservoir is currently home to 36 residents. In the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic, through July 21, 23 residents were infected and four died according to data provided Thursday by the state. Since July 22, another 14 residents have been infected – six of them in past week – and two have died.
Overall, three staff members at The Reservoir have also been infected.
CVS and Walgreens have contracted with the federal government to administer vaccines to nursing home residents and staff nationwide, and Executive VP and COO of CVS Health John Roberts attended the ceremony at The Reservoir on Friday, noting that it was an important day and remarking on the achievement of having an effective vaccine ready to be administered less than 11 months from the time the first case was diagnosed in the United States.
CVS has established 11,000 depots and will send 9,000 vaccinators on the road to distribute vaccines, Roberts said, and Friday morning marked the beginning of that process. “It’s a great day for all of us, for our country, and especially for our seniors that are in these facilities,” he said.
“This is a remarkable and a joyful day in Connecticut,” said Deidre Gifford, acting commissioner of the Department of Public Health. “Over the past nine months our nursing home residents, families, and staff have been devastated by this virus. Sadly we have lost over 3,000 residents of nursing homes to COVID-19 in Connecticut. That’s 3,000 grandmothers, grandfathers, sisters, brothers, friends, and beloved colleagues.”
Families have been unable to visit their loved ones, and difficult jobs have been made more difficult, but Friday marked “the beginning of the end,” Gifford said.
“Today is a day to acknowledge and thank all the people who have worked and sacrificed to make this day possible,” said Gifford, thanking the scientists, those who volunteered for the trials, and those who have put the vaccination program together to prioritize nursing home residents and staff.
“We can’t quite take our masks off yet,” Gifford said, with a few more months left where mask-wearing and social distancing will be required. “We look forward to the day when this pandemic is a distant memory.”
“Today is a big day because the ‘vials of hope’ have arrived in the form of the vaccine,” Gov. Ned Lamont said, echoing Feifer’s words. He thanked CVS/Aetna for making Connecticut a priority.
“We were hit hard,” Lamont said of the impact of the coronavirus on nursing homes, and the state responded by placing a priority on testing, on PPE, on tightening procedures for the operation of nursing homes. In the early months of the pandemic, nursing home deaths accounted for 70% of the state’s fatalities.
“Today it’s lower. Look, there’s no victory lap, 50%, but we’re doing everything we can to make a difference,” said Lamont. In some ways it’s more difficult now, he said, with more community spread than there was months ago.
“It was a real priority for us that nursing homes … be top of the list, be prioritized in getting this,” said Lamont.
Lamont said the big surge following Thanksgiving wasn’t in the nursing homes, and with just a week to go before Christmas, he urged people to stay home, to be patient for just a bit longer. “You’re getting the vaccines today. You’re going to have the vaccines again in a few weeks, and that means that you’re going to be able to celebrate Christmas maybe a month later … and that’s thanks to the vials of hope that have arrived.”
The governor said the plan is for all nursing home residents and staff members to be vaccinated, with both doses, by the end of January. “Hopefully you’ll see fatalities, that curve start bending.”
Lamont said he will definitely get vaccinated, and do it publicly, to lead by example – as soon as Gifford and the Department of Public Health determines that it’s the right time.
The first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in Connecticut Monday morning, and were administered at Hartford Hospital to Hartford HealthCare frontline workers from across the system.
The next phase of vaccination will be determined by the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention, Gifford said.
Demand will likely outstrip supply for the first few months, and Lamont said he is hopeful that by the time the vaccine is available to the general public there will be confidence in its safety and effectiveness.
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