Optimism reigns as first Covid-19 vaccine doses are rolled out locally

Retired teacher Shirley Nolan raised her arms aloft after receiving her first Covid-19 vaccine shot, exclaiming, “Hallelujah.” Nolan was the first resident of Boston’s Edgar P. Benjamin Healthcare Center to get the shot, a moment publicized by state health officials as efforts began Monday to vaccinate long-term care residents in Massachusetts.

The coronavirus has exacted a tragic toll on long-term care centers both in the state and nationally and the risks faced by their residents and workforce have placed the facilities near the front vaccine rollout line.

In Massachusetts, where long-term care fatalities account for 60 percent of the 12,110 Covid deaths logged so far, the Baker administration’s vaccine distribution timeline puts long-term care, rest homes, and assisted living facilities in the first phase, as the second demographic eligible for the shots after health care workers involved in pandemic response.

Through a partnership with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CVS and Walgreens are administering vaccines to nursing home and assisted living residents, with the pharmacies handling scheduling and coordination of on-site clinics, supply ordering, data reporting, and cold chain management of the vaccines.

Officials at the state’s coronavirus command center said this month that they expected between 40,000 and 60,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to be shipped to CVS and Walgreens for skilled nursing facilities in Massachusetts.

As of last Tuesday, before the long-term care vaccination campaign began, 35,618 people in Massachusetts had received their first of the two vaccine doses, according to the Department of Public Health. Many of those in the first wave to be vaccinated are health care workers, including men and women who work at facilities in Dorchester. Staff at the Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center received doses of the Moderna vaccine on Christmas Eve. Stan McLaren, president and CEO of the health center, was the first person to be vaccinated.

 “There’s been a lot of mistrust in my community, and some workers in the healthcare field, and a lot of it has to do with history,” McLaren said. “I want to show that I believe the vaccine to be safe, and I would not ask my employees to do something I would not do myself.”

Daniel Driscoll Neponset Health Center also received the Moderna vaccine last week and began its “phase one” rollout by vaccinating 30 staff members on Wed., Dec. 23. The effort — led by the center’s practice manager, Jildaysi Gomes, and nurse manager Jilaine Morales, RN, will continue over the next month, according to the CEO of Harbor Health Service, Chuck Jones. 

“In phase one of the roll-out we are vaccinating staff in accordance with DPH guidelines,” Jones told the Reporter. “We look forward to welcoming the community to receive the vaccine in phase two and three, in early 2021.”

Cardinal Sean O’Malley announced on Monday that he had received the first of two doses of the Moderna vaccine on Dec. 24 at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton. In a statement, the 76-year-old O’Malley said Dr. Joseph Weinstein, chief physician executive of Steward Health Care Network, had noted “that I qualified for the Covid vaccine” and offered to facilitate the inoculation.

“With recognition of the importance that all persons be vaccinated when possible, I was very happy to receive this invitation,” the cardinal said. “I am grateful to have been in line for the vaccine and encourage all people to be vaccinated as the opportunity is presented, as an important action of care and concern for our loved ones, our communities and our nation.

The archdiocese said O’Malley is scheduled to receive the second dose in January. The ongoing first phase of vaccination has been limited to health care workers and long-term care residents and staff. In a recent MassINC Polling Group survey of 1,180 Massachusetts residents, 36 percent said they would like to take the vaccine as soon as it’s possible for them to do so, with 47 percent saying they wanted to wait until either a few people they know or many other people get the shot first. When the results are broken down by age, 45 percent of people age 60 and over said they wanted the vaccine as soon as possible.

More than 10,000 new cases of COVID-19 were identified in Massachusetts over the Christmas holiday weekend, and 2,156 people were hospitalized with the respiratory disease as of Sunday, according to Department of Public Health data. One hundred new deaths reported Sunday and another 46 on Saturday brought the pandemic’s death toll here to 11,852 since March 20, a figure that rises to 12,110 when deaths among people with likely Covid-19 cases are added.

Michael P. Norton of State House News Service and Bill Forry of the Reporter contributed to this article.