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Dr. Anne Marie Swann of Williamstown, Mass., a hospitalist at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, receives the first vaccination administered at the Bennington hospital on Wednesday morning.
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Dr. Anne Marie Swann, left, and nurse Patricia Johnson celebrate after receiving their COVID-19 vaccinations on Wednesday morning.
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Physicians at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center hold up a homemade sign celebrating Wednesday's start of staff vaccinations.

Southwestern Vermont Medical Center Begins Vaccinating Staff for COVID-19

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Nurse Patricia Johnson receives the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
 
BENNINGTON, Vt. — After getting her first round of the COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday morning, Dr. Anne Marie Swann got a Band-Aid, a sticker, a round of applause and a place in local history.
 
The hospitalist from Williamstown, Mass., was the first member of the staff at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as the region officially began the next stage of society's battle against the global pandemic.
 
But moments later, Swann was quick to point out that the battle is far from over.
 
"Having this as a protective layer is encouraging and exciting for us because the more people who get vaccinated, the closer we get to that herd immunity," Swann said. "We'll still see this for a long time, but I think we'll hopefully see less of it.
 
"You know, this isn't the end. We are not out of the woods, here. We are still having COVID patients in our hospital. And we know we will have them for a while. So we need to keep up the mitigation measures with the masking and social-distancing which, fortunately, so many people in the Berkshires and Vermont have done really well."
 
That said, Swann was excited to be among the first frontline health workers in the Green Mountain State to be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.
 
Emergency room nurse Patricia Johnson, who followed Swann in the hot seat moments later, went through a number of emotions when she learned Tuesday that she would be at the vanguard.
 
"I was very honored, emotional and happy to be a part of the change that has been so desperately needed for our country," Johnson said. "For my own health and well being, for my family, for essential workers.
 
"It's a huge relief. I feel very hopeful and very grateful for this opportunity."
 
On Wednesday morning at 9:30, SVMC received 245 doses of the vaccine from the supply of 5,850 that the state anticipates receiving by the end of the week. The hospital's pharmacy director said the shipment actually arrived a little ahead of schedule from the state's distribution center.
 
Although this delivery came through the Vermont Department of Health, SVMC expects to receive its subsequent deliveries directly from Pfizer, and the hospital has an ultra-cold freezer ready to take delivery, said Robert Sherman.
 
The 245 doses in the initial shipment covers just less than 2 percent of the 1,400 staff at the hospital, Sherman said.
 
"We have an ethics committee and a vaccine committee that ended up taking the staff, looking at high-risk, frontline nurses, frontline physician providers, and they divided it up appropriately," Sherman said.
 
He said he expected about 75 doses to be administered on Wednesday with the rest distributed seven days a week until the initial supply was exhausted. The Pfizer vaccine requires a booster in several weeks for better prevention. 
 
The vaccines arrive at a time when Vermont has the nation's lowest COVID-19 test positivity rate, 2.1 percent, according to the VDH (Massachusetts' is 5.7 percent with more tests per capita).
 
Although Southwestern Vermont does not currently have a high COVID-19 patient count, the staff works hard to be ready if and when a surge does hit.
 
"A lot of our time is spent thinking about it and planning and preparing," Swann said. "You can't overestimate the amount of time that Dr. [Trey] Dobson, Dr. [Marie] George, all the people you saw in that room giving the vaccines have spent preparing us and helping us care for these patients. Fortunately, we haven't been overwhelmed with COVID. We talk about that a lot. I think that's a testament to our communities.
 
"But it does take up a lot of our time. All day, we are wearing masks, face shields and respirators in a lot of the rooms, gowning, gloving. It's exhausting in that way. But it's also emotionally exhausting coming in and facing this every day."
 
Johnson, who has worked at the Bennington facility for nearly four years, agreed that the staff at SVMC is ready if and when another surge comes.
 
"There's a lot of mentorship, teamwork and collaboration between the doctors and nurses here," she said. "I feel that I'm always kept abreast on what needs to happen and how it needs to happen. We're definitely prepared."
 

Tags: COVID-19,   SVMC,   


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Baker Acknowledges Frustration of Those Trying to Sign Up for Vaccines

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
BOSTON — On the first day residents 75 and older could sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Charlie Baker said he knows people are frustrated about the time it takes to get those appointments, but the commonwealth continues to be constrained by the supply of vaccines on hand.
 
"I think the biggest challenge we're going to face on this rollout, and we've said this several times, is if demand does outstrip supply, which is where we're going to be for some period of time until the federal government can get to the point where their distribution to us reaches some level that's consistent with the number of people who are eligible to get vaccinated," Baker said in his daily press availability on Beacon Hill.
 
"This process, for people, will be frustrating. I understand that, and I think we all appreciate it's going to require a certain amount of patience for people to realize it may take several trips to the website before they can get an appointment."
 
Starting Wednesday, the Berkshire County COVID-19 hotline, 413-449-5575, began running a recorded message that advises county residents 75 and older to visit one of two state websites, either www.maimmunizations.org or www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-vaccination-locations-for-individuals-in-eligible-groups-and-phases for information.
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