Residents of nursing homes, hit hardest by the pandemic since it began last spring, are now among the first to be vaccinated against COVID-19. New York began distribution of the vaccine on December 21 and New Jersey began on December 28.
At the Hebrew Home in Riverdale, New York, about 90% of residents opted to get the Pfizer vaccine, which was administered over three days, Monday, December 21-Wednesday, December 23. Dr. Zachary Palace, medical director, said he tried to educate residents, their families and staff about the importance of getting the vaccine.
“The risk is so small and the benefit is so great. Historically speaking, vaccines are a fundamental component of breaking a pandemic. The only way transmission will be halted is when people get immunized,” he said. “As physicians, we want to prevent disease so we don’t have to treat it.”
Dr. Palace said the technicians from Walgreen’s went floor to floor, room to room, throughout the complex to vaccinate residents. “A few got cold feet but most were really excited about getting it. They were eager to roll up their sleeves.” He said that when the technicians come back in three weeks to give the required second dose, they will bring additional supply for those who had a “wait and see attitude” but are now ready. There were no serious adverse reactions.
Hebrew Home resident Harriet Krawkowsky, 85, called the vaccine her “Chanukah miracle.” She said she didn’t feel well for one day after getting the shot, but then she was fine. Krakowsky said she speaks with her son daily and watches the little ones grow up on a “gadget.”
“I have two great-grandchildren born this year that I have never met,” she said. “I say a little prayer every day I can see them soon.”
Zelda Fassler, 88, had no reaction at all to the shot. “I feel absolutely wonderful. I feel even better than I did before the vaccine.” She admitted to being a little concerned beforehand, but didn’t feel a thing. This was a difficult year, she said, with isolation from the outside world and quarantines on the floor. But she has close friends there and activities are coming back.
“You couldn’t be in a place that took better care of you.” she said.
On Monday, December 28, technicians from CVS/Omnicare immunized over 300 residents and staff of the Jewish Home at Rockleigh with Pfizer’s vaccine for COVID-19. The long but upbeat day was the culmination of a focused education campaign to residents, their families and staff to explain the vaccine and its benefits, and answer questions.
Carol Silver Elliott, CEO of The Jewish Home Family, said, “By and large, there is a feeling of excitement and optimism. The vaccine is not the be all and end all—it has to reach a high enough level to have an impact—but the thought that we can protect our elders and keep our residents safe is hugely meaningful to us.”
Elliott said that only a small percentage of residents have declined the vaccine. “Our residents grew up in an era where they saw the polio vaccine change the world. Their families are anxious for them to be protected.”
In an interview forwarded by The Jewish Home, Miriam Danzger, who is in rehab there recovering from a fall, said she got the shot even though she already had COVID-19. “It wasn’t painful, it wasn’t invasive, in fact it was a non-event.” She’s hopeful that she will once again be able to visit with her two children in Teaneck and two who live in Israel.
“I hope we recognize each other,” she joked.
Ken Geles didn’t have any reservations about giving the vaccine to his mother, who just turned 78 and has lived at the Jewish Home for 3 ½ years. He is a scientist who used to work at Pfizer’s Pearl River location, where much of the work on the vaccine was done. In a phone conversation last week, he said, “I know scientists who helped develop the vaccine quite well. They got an amazing amount of work done in a short time. As soon as I heard it was available for my mother, I signed her up.” Geles said his mother had been a nurse so she was on board right away. In a follow-up email, he wrote that his mother received the vaccine without a problem.
“Everything went well,” he wrote. “The nursing home staff and CVS/Omnicare did a great job. We are so very grateful for all their tireless work keeping everyone safe! Vaccines are truly life-saving medicines and I hope that everyone gets one.”
Phil Cross has essential caregiver status, enabling him to have weekly visits with his 95-year-old mother at The Jewish Home. The family has stayed in touch by giving her a GrandPad, a tablet for seniors programmed so only authorized users can communicate and there are just two buttons to push for phone calls and video chats. “I had no hesitation about the vaccine, I’m very grateful they have it,” he said. My daughter has a child on the way. My mother is extremely excited about becoming a great-grandmother and looks forward to holding her great-grandchild.” Cross, who is a teaching assistant for students on the autism spectrum, is eager to get the vaccine himself.
“I haven’t put my arms around my mother since the second of March,” he said. “As soon as I can get it, I’m taking it.”
January 1, 2021, will be the start of a truly happy new year at the Daughters of Israel, a Jewish skilled-nursing facility in West Orange, New Jersey, when residents and staff will be vaccinated. Daughters of Israel is planning to add a festive touch to the day: After receiving the vaccine and being monitored for 15-30 minutes, each staff member will take part in a “grab and go” brunch. Residents will also be given treats.
“I cannot think of a better way to kick off the New Year at Daughters of Israel than providing the COVID vaccine to our residents, who are the most vulnerable population, and our staff members who care for them,” Susan Grosser, executive director of Daughters of Israel, wrote in an email. “It is a huge step in keeping our residents, our staff, our families and the greater community safe, and we are proud to be at the forefront of this initiative.”
By Bracha Schwartz