‘Light at the End of the Tunnel': More New England Hospitals Receive COVID Vaccine

Tufts Medical Center began administering Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine to medical workers Tuesday

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More hospitals in New England began to administer Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine Tuesday, a day after shipments began arriving in the region.

Tufts Medical Center was among the hospitals that received vaccine shipments Tuesday and began vaccinating frontline workers.

The first recipient at the hospital was Dr. Gabriela Andujar Vazquez, an associate epidemiologist at the hospital who sees COVID-19 patients daily.

"It's exciting," she said. "I'm very happy."

Ten people were vaccinated at Tufts Tuesday.

"I wanted to get the vaccine and also advocate for everybody out there that it's safe," said Dr. Andujar.

More hospitals in Massachusetts received Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine Tuesday, a day after shipments began arriving in the region.

The hospital received 2,925 doses earlier in the day.

They'll first be given out in the days and weeks ahead to doctors, nurses, technicians, medical assistants and environmental services staff -- anyone who might have direct contact with COVID patients.

"It is very bittersweet today," said Dr. Shira Diron, a hospital epidemiologist who received the vaccine. "Because we've hit that milestone of 300,000 deaths and we know that we still have our long winter ahead of the surge, and hospitalizations and death and suffering."

Tufts has been working on an electronic schedule so that staff members can start signing up for vaccinations this week.

It’s expecting to receive about a thousand doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in this first round. Once the first shot is scheduled, employees will then have to return three weeks later for the second dose.

"I think there’s healthy skepticism around taking the vaccine this was something that was done at record pace," said Nick Duncan, director of emergency management at Tufts Medical Center. "It’s really as safe as it’s going to be as if it took 10 years, so that’s something we’re getting behind and educating people and allowing them to have their own opinions about this."

Five employees of Tufts Medical Center will receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine today.

Duncan said that the goal is to have all hospital staff vaccinated by March.

MelroseWakefield Hospital has been preparing for a delivery of about 1,000 shots. 

The hospital, which will first vaccinate employees who treat or work near coronavirus patients, turned a conference room into a makeshift clinic, filled with several vaccination tables. 

There has been a lot of excitement surrounding the arrival of coronavirus vaccines in Massachusetts, but there are still some with questions, including in the medical community.

“Our goal is to be able to vaccinate as many people as we can, and any lost time is lost time,” said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Steven Sbardella.

The hospital also rented a special freezer that’s capable of keeping the shots at the required -80 degrees Celsius, or 112 degrees below zero. 

Meanwhile, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu was on hand Tuesday morning as Eliot Hospital in Manchester administered vaccine shots to some front-line workers.

"This is the beginning of that light at the end of the tunnel we've been talking about," Sununu said.

The intensive care unit nurse who was the first person to be vaccinated against the coronavirus in New Hampshire said she wanted to inspire others to overcome their fears.

Heidi Kukla received her first dose of the vaccine Tuesday, and was quickly followed by four of her colleagues at Elliot Hospital in Manchester.

“I volunteered to be first to get this vaccine because I know a lot of people have reservations about getting the vaccine,” she said. “They’re worried about how fast it was produced, what the long-term effects may be, but I can assure you that there is absolutely nothing worse than being a patient on a ventilator in an ICU anywhere in this country right now with COVID, and the anguish of the family members that can’t be there.”

Health care workers are first in line for the vaccine under the state’s distribution plan. Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said the state expects to distribute all 12,000 doses in the initial shipment within about a week. Vaccinations of residents at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities are scheduled to start Dec. 21, she said.

“As a nurse, this is a very emotional moment for me. For the last nine months we’ve been collectively searching for a solution to the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “As a community we now have our solution.”

The initial vaccinations were given outside in 27-degree weather, prompting one attendee to jokingly ask whether officials were highlighting the vaccine’s cold storage requirements.

Front-line health care workers were also the the first people given the COVID-19 vaccine in Maine.

The state is starting by providing vaccines to front-line health care workers and people in long-term care facilities. The first people received the vaccines at Maine Medical Center in Portland, Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah said.

More people were slated to receive the vaccine later in the day at Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford, he said.

“We are off and running,” Shah said.

The first Vermont health care workers were also scheduled to get the first vaccines Tuesday in the state to protect them against COVID-19. The vaccinations were due to be administered at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington. The first shipment arrived in Vermont on Monday.

On Monday, the Boston Medical Center was among the first hospitals in Massachusetts to receive a shipment of the live-saving vials that were immediately put into an ultra-cold freezer, where they will stay under tight security until Wednesday.

Jenny Eriksen Leary, a BMC spokeswoman, said the center received 1,950 doses of the vaccine and will start administering them on Wednesday. She said front line health care workers, including doctors and nurses in the intensive care unit, emergency department and patient floors that treat COVID-19 patients, will be among the first to receive the doses.

The new arrivals come after a wave of vaccines began arriving to the region Monday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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