HARTFORD - Health care workers began vaccinations in Connecticut nursing homes Friday, calling the containers “vials of hope,” with the aim of ending the devastation the coronavirus is causing to elderly residents and their families.
Residents and staff at The Reservoir care facility in West Hartford were among the first in the state to receive the Pfizer shots. Four other nursing homes in Connecticut also were expected to begin vaccinations, which were given three days earlier than planned.
“Over the last nine months-plus, we’ve connected together in a shared struggle and shared grief as we’ve faced tragedy on a scale that we could never have imagined,” said Dr. Rich Feifer, chief medical officer at Genesis HealthCare, which operates The Reservoir. “But these vials of hope have arrived. Today is a historic day and this vaccine is critical to our ability to end this pandemic.”
Feifer was first to receive the vaccine.
Nurse Sophia Walker was the third person to receive a dose, saying she hoped to inspire confidence in the vaccine among the Black community.
African Americans have a distrust in the government and the medical community that often is linked to the Tuskegee experiment, in which Black men in Alabama were left untreated for syphilis as part of a study that ran from the 1930s into the ‘70s.
“In terms of me being a minority, we don’t want to take it because of ... the Tuskegee incident,” said Walker, who is Black. “So I know I’m setting a great example for the Black community. I’m happy to be an example for that.”
The first resident to receive the vaccine was 95-year-old Jeanne Peters, who said she was delighted and hoped others would get vaccinated.
It was not clear exactly how many vaccine doses were initially provided to the five nursing homes where vaccinations began Friday. The state initially planned for the first vaccine shipments for nursing homes - about 16,575 doses - to be transported to CVS and Walgreens distribution centers by Monday and then sent to long-term care facilities throughout the state.
Nursing home vaccinations in the U.S. began this week in West Virginia and Florida.
COVID-19 has heavily afflicted nursing home populations around the country. In Connecticut, 3,315 nursing home residents have died from the virus since the pandemic began, representing about 60% of the 5,552 total virus-related deaths in the state. Within the past week, 84 nursing home residents have died and 476 tested positive for the virus.
“This virus has taken a toll on families who’ve been unable to visit their loved ones, on workers whose jobs were difficult and challenging even before the pandemic began,” said Dr. Deidre S. Gifford, the state’s acting public health commissioner. “And it has robbed our seniors in nursing homes of the vital social contacts and the visits from friends and loved ones that keep them connected to the broader world.”
That’s why Friday was “a remarkable and joyful day in Connecticut,” Gifford said.
Gov. Ned Lamont also praised the arrival of the vaccine, which requires two doses three weeks apart. But he urged families to continue to stay home as much as possible as Christmas approaches to try to prevent more outbreaks.