More than 4,000 front-line medical workers at local hospitals and related facilities have now been vaccinated against COVID-19, and still many more staff members wait to receive their shots.

At Salem Hospital, Roxanne Ruppel, the senior vice president of operations, said that by the end of Jan. 7, more than 2,500 staff members were vaccinated at the hospital and North Shore Physicians Group.

“We’ve made good progress,” Ruppel said, adding that there are about 4,000 employees in total. “But we still have some work to do to get to everyone.”

According to Phil Cormier, the president of Beverly and Addison Gilbert hospitals, approximately 1,542 front-line clinicians and other staff members from the two hospitals and Bayridge and Lahey Outpatient Center in Danvers were vaccinated as of Jan. 7.

Cormier said employees that already received the vaccine are considered to be at the highest risk of exposure to the virus based on where they work and the patients they work with.

Watching the hospital staff get vaccinated can be very emotional, reflected Ruppel, in Salem.

“It does really feel like a light at the end of the tunnel, and it brings us all some hope,” she said. “After everything this staff has been through and everything they have done for their patients and for the community, to be able to vaccinate our staff, that first day was just an awesome day. It felt like really turning the corner.”

This is at a time when local hospitals say they are right at capacity for available beds due to a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations over the past few weeks. Many other hospitals across the country report the same or worse conditions.

These hospitals and long-term care facilities on the North Shore were only able to begin administering Pfizer vaccine in mid-December in the first phase of the rollout.

Cormier said the morale of health care workers at the hospitals greatly improved after vaccines began to be distributed.

According to Jennifer Rosenberg, a spokesperson for Beverly and Addison Gilbert, the hospitals are following state Department of Public Health guidelines to determine which staff members should receive the vaccine first. State guidelines, she said, prioritize frontline staff including doctors, nurses, technicians, and others who have contact with patients.

Ruppel also said not all employees are currently eligible for immunization because the first phase of the state’s vaccination plan focuses on health care workers who have direct contact with COVID patients or can be reassigned to work with COVID patients at any time.

Despite the tight guidelines, Ruppel said Salem Hospital hasn’t had any issues finding eligible people to vaccinate.

“There has been tremendous support from the system,” she said, explaining that the hospital is constantly using up its supply of vaccines and receiving more doses, which helps with issues that could arise with storage. “There are some complex logistics associated with the transport and the storage as you can imagine, and certainly starting up new services there are always challenges, but I am very pleased with the way things are going and I think things are operating smoothly.”

Betsy Mullen, the chief operating officer at Chelsea Jewish Lifecare — which includes the Jeffrey and Susan Brudnick Center for Living in Peabody — said more than 95% of the skilled nursing and rehab center’s approximately 140 residents received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 29 when CVS hosted a vaccination clinic.

“It was an amazing feeling,” she said. “I woke up that morning and I had this sense of being hopeful. Residents were so excited to get the vaccine.”

The second vaccination clinic at Brudnick, Mullen said, will be Jan. 19.

Mullen said that even though there are some minor challenges associated with being a vaccination site — mainly related to paperwork and educating staff and residents about the vaccine — the entire process has generally gone smoothly.

“Residents are happy they will see the end of the pandemic and life will get back to normal after almost a year,” she said. “On the other hand, everyone is still very much on guard and they know people can not let their guard down.” 

Mullen said elderly people residing in assisted living facilities, like the Harriet and Ralph Kaplan Estates next-door to Brudnick, haven’t been vaccinated yet because of state guidelines, but they will be eligible for the vaccine as soon as this week.

Dr. Richard Feifer, chief medical officer at Hathorne Hill Rehabilitation Center in Danvers, said the facility had its first CVS vaccination clinic on Dec. 28. Feifer said CVS will return two more times to administer booster shots and vaccinate those who weren’t vaccinated the first time. The center is licensed for a total of 120 beds.

“Thus far, there have been minimal side effects after patients, residents and staff received dose one,” he said, adding that it’s difficult to determine how many people are going to be vaccinated at Hathorne Hill because several people are choosing to see how their peers are responding to the shot before receiving it themselves.

“We are striving to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible at each clinic,” Feifer said, also noting that the facility is constantly attempting to educate staff and residents about the vaccine and encouraging everyone to get it.

Margie Laurin, communications coordinator for Berkshire Healthcare Properties — which includes Hunt Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Danvers — said Hunt had its first vaccine clinic on Jan. 5.

“The general sentiment has been very positive, very, very positive,” she said about the atmosphere, on days when nursing facilities like Hunt have vaccine clinics. “I don’t think you see people cheering because I think some are still war-weary from what we have all been going through the past several months, but there is definitely a lighter spirit with lots of smiles.”

Laurin said she isn’t sure exactly how many staff members and residents at Hunt have already received the vaccine, but the majority of the residents have been inoculated. According to the state’s weekly COVID-19 report, Hunt has capacity for 120 residents.

“Residents have been generally very, very eager to get the vaccine,” she said. “A lot of them remember polio when they were young, and they know the value of vaccinations.”

Working in long-term care during a pandemic has been “heartbreaking,” Laurin said, but added that she feels hopeful in a way she hasn’t allowed herself to feel in a long time.

“It feels like a new day is finally dawning,” she said. “It feels like we can finally breathe. I feel hope instead of fear.”

Staff writer Erin Nolan can be reached at 978-338-2534, by email at enolan@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @erin_nolan_.

WHEN CAN I GET THE COVID-19 VACCINE?

Phase One: Now through February

In order of priority:

Clinical and non-clinical health care workers doing direct and COVID-facing care

Long-term care facilities, rest homes and assisted living facilities

First responders (EMS, fire, police)

Congregate care settings (including corrections and shelters)

Home-based health care workers

Health care workers doing non-COVID-facing care

Phase Two: February through April

In order of priority:

Individuals with two-plus comorbidities and/or ages 75 and older (high risk for COVID-19 complications)

Early education and K-12 workers, transit, grocery, utility, food and agriculture, sanitation, public works and public health workers

Adults ages 65 and older

Individuals with one comorbidity

Phase Three: April through June

Vaccine available to the general public

Timeframes are estimated. Source: www.mass.gov

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