Community vaccine rollout could begin next month

  • An ambulance arrives at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/14/2021 10:16:41 AM

HADLEY — Cooley Dickinson Health Care officials signaled Wednesday that community rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine is likely to begin in early to mid-February and last for six months.

Meantime, Cooley Dickinson Hospital has administered around 1,100 first doses of the vaccine in the first phase of the vaccination rollout, with 380 people having also received the second of the two doses, reported Dr. Estevan Garcia, chief medical officer at Cooley Dickinson Health Care. The first phase includes health care providers who work directly with patients, long-term care facilties and health care workers in non-COVID-19 facing care.

Garcia and Dr. Joanne Levin, medical director of infection prevention at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, made a virtual visit to Wednesday night’s Hadley Select Board meeting to provide information and updates on vaccine rollout and the state of the hospital amid a statewide COVID-19 surge.

As COVID-19 cases rise across the state and the country, “for the most part, everything is functioning well” at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, according to Levin.

The hospital is generally well-staffed; has not turned away patients; and is offering all non-COVID-19 related services, such as elective surgeries, with only rare exceptions, Levin said.

“At least this fall, we never had to do anything extreme to accommodate our patients’ needs,” she said.

The hospital has access to all medications that are considered standard therapy for COVID-19, she added, including remdesivir. While there was a shortage of the drug earlier on in the pandemic, Cooley Dickinson now has “no problem getting it, and we do use it regularly,” Levin said.

Vaccine update

Once community vaccinations begin next month, state regulations stipulate that the next in line are people 75 and older, and people who have at least two conditions that put them at higher risk for severe infection, Garcia said.

Those who receive the vaccine can expect commonly reported side effects such as a sore upper arm and some localized redness and swelling, he said. Some people reported slight numbness or tingling in their tongue, Garcia added, but no one has needed extra care beyond some extended observation.

Everyone who receives the vaccine can expect to be observed for at least 15 minutes afterward, and if significant side effects occur, people are sent to the emergency department. Providers will then speak with an allergist before giving the second dose, which is administered weeks later.

“Our goal from the public health perspective is to get enough vaccine distributed so that we have something called herd immunity,” Garcia said, which is “going to take months.”

“We would really encourage everyone to continue their current precautions, socially distance, not engaging with other folks that are not within your immediate bubble for the next six months, at least,” he added. “Even if you’re protected, there are others in the community who aren’t.”

Garcia cited Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, in saying that performances at theaters and other venues may be able to resume in the fall “if everything goes right.”

Anne McKenzie, superintendent of Hadley Public Schools, gave an update on remote learning, and Susan Mosler and Emma Dragon of the town’s Board of Health also shared information.

Mosler said that in the coming weeks, the state is expected to launch a website that provides an interactive map of all sites offering the vaccine. People will be able to select a site close to them to sign up for the vaccine once their turn has arrived.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at
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