The first group of West Hartford Fire Department and West Hartford Police Department members were vaccinated by nurses from the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District Wednesday afternoon.
By Ronni Newton
Twenty of West Hartford’s first responders received their first dose of protection from COVID-19 Wednesday afternoon, as representatives from the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District staged the first of what will likely be many clinics for administration of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.
“I’m happy to finally see the day that we get it here, to be at the beginning of the process so we can all get through this as quickly as possible,” said Matt Hebert, a West Hartford firefighter/paramedic and the first member of the department to receive the vaccine.
The West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District received 500 doses of the Moderna vaccine last week, and Health Director Aimee Krauss said 70 people will have received their first doses by the end of Wednesday. The Health District started administering the vaccine the morning after it was delivered by a UPS driver who was almost as excited as those who took delivery of the precious cargo.
The first vaccines were administered to Health District nurses, who in turn will be vaccinating others – initially at smaller clinics like the one Wednesday at the West Hartford Fire Department’s Station No. 2 on Brace Road – eventually at larger drive-through events.
Health District nurse Debbye Rosen, who along with nurse Carol Steinke was administering the vaccines Wednesday, called the vaccine – which must be kept at a cold temperature – it the “miracle on ice.” Gov. Ned Lamont called the vaccine the “vial of hope” on Dec. 18, when the first doses were administered to the state’s nursing home residents and staff at The Reservoir in West Hartford.
Krauss said that vaccination appointments are spaced out at 10-15 minute intervals, at least in the initial clinics, and include the step of entering information regarding those receiving the vaccines into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS). While the Health District has run countless flu clinics, use of VAMS is an extra step that has been put into place for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Firefighter/paramedic Matthew Traber said he sees the vaccine as a way to protect not only himself but also his family, colleagues, and the community.
Those who receive a vaccine are asked to remain for 15 minutes to ensure they don’t have an allergic reaction. Anyone who has any type of allergy that results in an anaphylactic reaction is asked to remain on premises for 30 minutes, Steinke said. Allergies to injectables are really the biggest concern, she said.
Steinke said that those involved in the vaccine trials reported greater incidence of side effects with the second dose. She received her first dose last week, and said her arm was sore for a few days.
Traber, who has a nut allergy, remained at Station No. 2 for 30 minutes, but wasn’t worried about getting the vaccine, didn’t have any reaction, and said it didn’t hurt at all.
“I think it’s important,” he said. “We have a really high encounter rate. I see COVID patients daily,” he said, and after every encounter they self monitor. Traber said his wife is a teacher, and he has two teenaged children, and feels very fortunate that thus far none of them have contracted the coronavirus.
Hebert said he had a possible exposure last week, but didn’t contract the virus. He said he is looking forward to be ing able to see his grandmother again.
“I am pleased that the vaccines are here and being provided to our first responders,” West Hartford Fire Chief Greg Priest said. “While many of the national and community efforts to date have been focused on slowing the spread of the virus and treating those affected, the vaccine is the first step in actually stopping it.
“There are many employment sectors that are required to work in-person with others and inevitably face risk, but our responders and other health care providers are sent into direct contact with infected persons. The vaccine will protect them and allow them to provide care to others’ safely. I understand there has been trepidation and speculation as well as extensive physical, financial, and emotional impacts throughout society while we combat this virus. I am pleased that our responders have researched and agreed with the recommendation to take the vaccine. They are doing their part to protect themselves, their families, their coworkers, and above all the citizens they serve,” said Priest.
“It will be nice to get it done, to eventually be able to see my grandparents,” said West Hartford Police Off. Mat Siena, who also received his vaccine at Station No 2 on Wednesday. He has an appointment to receive his second dose on Jan. 27.
West Hartford Police are often the first to respond to medical calls, and are considered among the frontline health care workers who are included in Phase 1A – those eligible for the initial round of vaccines.
“I got it more for my family, to protect them,” said West Hartford Police Off. Eric Butkiewicz, the father of two young children, who said he was excited to get his first dose Wednesday.
Each vial of the Moderna vaccine contains 10 doses, and Krauss said appointments are being scheduled so that no doses are wasted. If there happens to be an extra full dose left in the vial – which has hasn’t happened yet for the Health District but has been reported elsewhere – Krauss said it will be given to another eligible first responder.
Krauss said she has already put in a request through VAMS for another batch of vaccines, but doesn’t yet know when that will arrive or how many doses will be provided. She has been assured that second doses for those who have received their first dose will be sent to the Health District in plenty of time to be administered. The second dose of the Moderna vaccine is supposed to be given 28 days after the first, and Steinke said there is a window of four days plus or minus for that second dose.
A Vaccination Record Card is given to each person who has received the vaccine, and notes the type of vaccine (you must receive the second dose from the same company), and the date.
Plans are for more West Hartford firefighters and police officers, as well as others who qualify in Phase 1A, will receive their first doses at a larger clinic on Jan. 12, Krauss said, and the Health District will also be holding a clinic in Bloomfield on Jan. 14.
Priest offered a special “thank you” to the Health District for holding this clinic, and future clinics. He said when it’s his turn he will be glad to roll up his sleeve, but he thinks it’s more important that those who deal directly with the public receive it first.
“We’re excited,” Krauss said, adding that the Health District is awaiting guidance regarding Phase 1B – which the governor said during a press briefing Wednesday should be coming next week.
The Department of Public Health website will provide updates, and Krauss said the town’s website will also provide updates about vaccination eligibility. West Hartford’s senior centers will also be disseminating information to seniors, and will likely host clinics in the future as well.
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