COVID-19 vaccines now rolling out to nursing homes in Pa., NJ

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UPDATED: 3:55 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The effort to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to nursing home residents and workers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey has begun.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy was in attendance for the first shot, at the Roosevelt Care Center in Old Bridge Township, Middlesex County — one of 90 facilities in the state that are a part of the rollout.

Onlookers applauded as 103-year-old Mildred Clements became the state's first long-term care resident to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

New Jersey expects to inoculate 83,000 residents and staff at nearly 300 long-term care facilities through the beginning of February. Murphy said it’s appropriate that these residents are at the front of the line.

"Long-term care facilities across the entire nation and certainly here have been crushed by COVID-19. They were borne an outsized burden of this pandemic," he said.

The second person to receive the vaccine was Esther Moodey, a nurse at the facility.

"I was excited to receive it. I was nervous, but it was beautiful, and I'm glad I got it," she said.

The shots began in New Jersey a week later than other states, because the administration missed a federal application deadline. Murphy said that's because the state was adding facilities for the developmentally disabled to the application.

Murphy said the vaccine should be available to the general public by April or May.

The effort to vaccinate those at long-term care facilities around the country is a collaboration of the federal government's Operation Warp Speed, the states, and pharmacies CVS and Walgreens.

"Operation Warp Speed works with those two companies in terms of distributing the vaccine and actually going to the facilities and immunizing all of the patients and all of the staff," Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said last week.

The vaccines available right now from both Pfizer and Moderna require two doses, so those who are getting shots now or already got them won’t have full protection until after the second shot a few weeks later.

In Pennsylvania, CVS is administering vaccinations at 120 long-term care facilities across the state this week, while Walgreens is covering six. Personal care homes, assisted living facilities, residential treatment facilities for adults, and private intermediate care facilities for individuals with developmental disabilities will be the next wave to receive Pfizer’s vaccine.

More doses will be arriving throughout the week.

“The pharmacies will be reporting how many vaccinations, but we don’t know exactly how quickly that information will be available,” said Levine. “It will be at least 72 hours after that administration.”

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health is receiving its own allocation of the vaccine separate from the state department.

Health care workers kicked things off a few weeks back, and now the next groups in line are stepping up to get the shot.

The first emergency medical services workers in Montgomery County were also vaccinated on Monday.

Lt. Joe Yochim with the Narberth Ambulance was one of the first to be immunized among his peers on Monday. In just the past few months, he said he’s dealt with nearly three-dozen instances of the coronavirus.

“I decided to get the vaccine publicly because for the past nine months, I haven’t had a safety net or a parachute. I’ve literally been face to face with these patients that have had COVID-19,” he said. “I feel a little more comfortable walking into someone’s house that may or may not have the virus. I’ve got a 2-year-old at home. I love her to death, and I don’t want to bring that home to her.”

“I chose to do this publicly to show other providers that it’s safe and there is a willingness here to take the next step,” said Battalion Chief Anthony McGrail of the Second Alarmers Rescue Squad, who received his first injection of the Moderna vaccine. “This is the first step toward, hopefully, an end to all of this.”

McGrail said the vaccine puts his mind at ease more than any amount of personal protective equipment could.

“It’s not just going into the houses and taking care of the families,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s going home to your family and knowing you’re not going to give it to your family after taking care of those patients.”

Dr. Val Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, said it’s imperative these EMS workers are on the top of the list when it comes to being immunized.

“We’re working through some really critical front-line people — people that will become the vaccinators as we continue through this process,” she said.

The county received 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine for paramedics, EMTs, and home health care workers. In the next round of vaccinations, Arkoosh said they want to target teachers, police officers, firefighters and grocery store workers.