Nine grueling months into the pandemic, nursing home workers and operators say they’re feeling some relief with the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines.
“Everybody wants to get back to the lives we had before, so the vaccine is a great step toward that,” said Sophia Walker, a registered nurse at The Reservoir nursing home in West Hartford.
Walker was among the first nursing home workers in Connecticut -- and in the country -- to get a COVID-19 vaccine through a federal program with CVS and Walgreens Friday morning.
Connecticut, as well as Ohio and Florida, were tapped to begin vaccinations early. A broader national launch of the program starts Monday.
COVID-19 has hit the state’s most vulnerable population and its caregivers particularly hard -- more than 3,300 residents have died. Others have been isolated from their loved ones for the majority of the year.
At the same time, issues in the state’s early pandemic response left nursing home workers without proper personal protective equipment and infection prevention resources. More than 2,600 have become ill themselves and at least three have died, according to state data.
That’s not to mention the emotional and psychological impacts they are still dealing with, workers say.
“Our residents have suffered greatly. And our staff have felt the strain and the stress in caring for residents during this pandemic, and also in taking care of themselves and their families,” said Dr. Rich Feifer, chief medical officer and executive vice president of Genesis HealthCare, which operates The Reservoir. “But these vials of hope have arrived.”
All 211 nursing home facilities in Connecticut have partnered with either Walgreens or CVS to get Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, which requires two doses.
State officials expect to get large shipments this week of a vaccine made by Moderna, also two doses, which was authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday night.
Jeanne Peters was the first resident of The Reservoir to get a vaccine Friday morning. A CVS pharmacist administered her first dose.
“I feel good. The shot was no problem and I think everyone can and should get a shot [for] the virus, definitely. No matter what age. I’m 95, but I’m still counting,” she said, laughing.
State officials said about five nursing homes around the state were included in the soft launch Friday, but they declined to identify all facilities by name.
Trinity Hill Care Center in Hartford, which is operated by iCare Health Network, confirmed it was included in the early group of vaccinations. Walgreens pharmacists were on-site Friday to deliver initial doses.
“The arrival of the vaccine at Trinity Hill felt historic and was met with applause and excitement,” said spokesman David Skoczulek in an email. “There is some tiny but growing sense of relief among the staff and residents, some sense that we are finally seeing the light at the end of a very long tunnel.”
Vaccinations at assisted living facilities will closely follow nursing homes as part of the state’s 1A distribution phase.
Gov. Ned Lamont said he hopes to have all workers and residents included in Phase 1A completely immunized with all required vaccine doses by the end of January.
In the meantime, Lamont cautioned that the vaccination process will take time and extend months into 2021. He advised people to be cautious ahead of the holidays.
“We’re one week from Christmas and it’s going to take a little bit longer,” he said. “And I urge people to stay home.”