Vaccinations for people who live and work in congregate care facilities, as well as some additional community health care providers, will begin as soon as this weekend in Berkshire County.
For this part of Phase 1, Berkshire Health Systems and local public health officials will collaborate to provide immunizations for around 2,000 residents and staff, while some facilities get vaccinations from CVS and Walgreens through the Federal Pharmacy Partnership Program.
On Wednesday, Gov. Charlie Baker said this part of the state’s vaccine rollout would include residential facilities, shelter programs and corrections, as well as some approved private special education schools.
“These facilities are prioritized because they serve vulnerable populations in densely populated settings, which means they’re at significant risk for contracting COVID-19,” he said. “The staff are also high-risk for exposure in these facilities.”
Walgreens will provide vaccinations for some 400 residents and employees at the Brien Center’s congregate care facilities, according to Paul Hickling, vice president of Service Operations. Those vaccinations, which include on-site shots for residents and centralized clinics for staff, are expected to begin within the next three weeks.
“We are absolutely looking forward to the vaccine,” Hickling said. “It seems like COVID-19 has been looming over Berkshire County for ages.”
The center’s emergency services program employees, or “crisis team” members, have already been able to get vaccinations through Berkshire Health Systems, Hickling said.
At Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction, willing staff have already received the first dose of the vaccine. Inmates will be vaccinated directly through the jail, rather than through local public health efforts.
Federal age restrictions on who can receive the vaccine will limit the number of eligible recipients during this stage.
“Moderna is only good for age 18 and up, and Pfzier is only for 16 and up,” said Laura Kittross, director of the Berkshire County Boards of Health Association. “So a place like Hillcrest [Educational Centers] will do their staff, but most residents aren’t of an age where they can get the vaccine.”
During congregate care vaccinations, public health officials will use the same sign-up portal as for first responder clinics, but new clinics will be set to “private” rather than “public.” Health officials hope the change will reduce ineligible signups that have plagued early clinics.
Kittross urged anyone who receives the link not to sign up unless they are eligible.