Vaccine rollout underway: VA, Holyoke Health Center receive first shipments of Moderna vaccine

  • VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System in Leeds gave its first COVID-19 vaccine Monday to resident Kevin James Bates, 68, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Army from 1970 to 1973. VA CENTRAL WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS

  • Entrance to the VA medical center in Leeds. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/24/2020 11:21:19 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Providing Moderna’s vaccine to residents and front-line workers at the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System in Leeds this week initiated the start of the next phase of protecting the most vulnerable populations from COVID-19 infection.

“Receiving the vaccine is like having hope delivered,” Duane Gill, director of the VA, said in a statement issued after inoculations began Monday. “As vaccine supplies increase, our ultimate goal is to offer COVID-19 vaccination to all veterans and employees who want to be vaccinated.”

After those who work directly with COVID-19 patients at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, Baystate Medical Center in Springfield and others began receiving their vaccinations last week, the next step commenced this week at places including the VA and the Holyoke Health Center. At the community health center, the first shipment of the Moderna vaccine arrived Tuesday to provide 400 vaccinations to front-line health care workers at its sites in Holyoke and Chicopee.

“The goal is to reach universal vaccination within our health center staff so that we can be at full strength to implement the next, larger phase to vaccinate all of our high-risk patients and eventually any of our patients who want to be vaccinated in the coming months,” Marlo Conner, the center’s chief operating officer, said in a statement.

Long-term care centers and nursing homes are scheduled to get their first vaccines next week.

On Monday, CVS Health begins administering the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at 1,995 nursing homes and elder care sites across Massachusetts. These are likely to include several in Hampshire County and Holyoke, including CareOne in Northampton, CareOne at Holyoke, Elaine Center in Hadley, the Center for Extended Care in Amherst and Vero Health Care in South Hadley.

Efforts to reach administrators and head nurses at these locations were not immediately successful.

CVS, with Walgreens and other select pharmacies, are contracted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to administer doses of the vaccine through what is known as the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-term Care Program.

The idea, according to the CDC, is to facilitate safe vaccination at about 40,000 rest homes across the country to the critical patient population, while reducing the burden on long-term care facilities and local health departments.

“At no cost to facilities, the program provides end-to-end management of the COVID-19 vaccination process, including cold chain management, on-site vaccinations and fulfillment of reporting requirements,” the CDC website states.

VA Central Western Massachusetts was one of 113 VA medical centers across the country to receive the first limited supply of Moderna’s vaccine, with sites identified based on need for the vaccine according to CDC’s 1A prioritization, and the capacity to store the vaccine at -20 degrees Celsius. Similar to Pfizer’s vaccine, Moderna’s will be administered in two doses about 28 days apart.

Only when the vaccines have more widespread availability will other veterans served by the VA be eligible, with care teams reaching out to schedule vaccinations. Veterans will not have to preregister or go to the facility to sign up.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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