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Vaccinations Begin Among Berkshire Frontline Medical Workers

The main sign outside of Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, Massachusetts
Josh Landes
The main sign at Berkshire Health Systems' Pittsfield, Massachusetts hospital Berkshire Medical Center.

The first COVID-19 vaccinations in Berkshire County were given Thursday at Berkshire Health Systems locations in Pittsfield, North Adams and Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

BHS spokesperson Michael Leary says around 470 employees were administered the first of a two-part injection series.

“We had asked through a companywide staff wide survey as to who would be willing to accept the vaccine," he explained. "The vast majority of those people who responded did say yes, so we started scheduling them right away.”

Distribution is based on the state’s tiered system, starting with those in the 1A category.

“That is frontline workers who are in the most vulnerable, higher risk areas such as the emergency departments at our hospitals and our North Adams campus, the Urgent Care location that we operate, as well as our ICU and our COVID units,” said Leary.

One of those staffers was Manager of Environmental Services Robert Fowler.

“So I oversee the daily operations of the housekeeping staff and the transport staff that, you know, move our patients around the facility," he told WAMC. "You know, you may be an inpatient and have to go down for a CAT scan, or an X-ray or some other type of test or procedure. So that staff would move the patient. The housekeepers, you know, on day shift, they do a daily clean of all the patient rooms, all the common areas, bathrooms, break rooms. They’re obviously focused on high touched areas right now.”

He was one of the first people in the Berkshires to get one of the 1,950 doses of the Pfizer vaccine the state allotted BHS.

“I felt honored to be in the first wave, you know," Fowler told WAMC. "I thought it was important, you know. I got staff that are on the fence about whether to get it or not. And, you know, some of them asked me, ‘Well, what are you doing boss?’ And I said, ‘Well, I'm getting it.' And no problems with receiving it. I thought the whole evolution was smooth. You know, I just thanked the chief nursing officer a little while ago. I was in a meeting with her and, you know, her team just did such an incredible job rolling it out that quickly.”

After receiving the injection, Fowler and his colleagues were asked to sit and be monitored for adverse reactions for 15 minutes in an auditorium before continuing with their day.

“Think about all the people in this country, and, you know, here's this small town in Western Massachusetts, and when the vaccine center opened this morning, I was one of the first in line, and that in itself is amazing," he told WAMC. "We just got the product the other day and probably what, less than 24 hours, you know, it's being administered to people.”

Fowler has already been scheduled for his second dose in 28 days after the first. He says everyone who can get the vaccine once it’s widely available should.

“You might be younger and you’re healthy and you feel your body could fight it, but you’ve got to think about your family members and your neighbors and the community," he said. "It’s not only protecting you, it’s going to end up protecting everyone in the community.”

In addition to the Pfizer vaccine doses already on hand, BHS expects to receive several hundred doses of the Moderna vaccine, expected to be approved by the FDA imminently.

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