First Responder Vaccines in Pittsfield

Dr. Alan Kulberg, chairman of the Pittsfield Board of Health, readies a dose of COVID-19 vaccine last month, during a clinic for first responders at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield. Seniors 75 and older are eligible to receive the vaccine under Phase Two of the state’s program.

RICHMOND — Got it. The first COVID-19 shot.

The route was a little curvy, but it worked. A neighbor sent me a text about a new location, a copy to one of my daughters.

By the time I read the text, my daughter had made an appointment for me at Stop & Shop. That was a good thing — after years of getting prescriptions there, we have all become very confident about that pharmacy and pharmacist Bill Haddad.

Bill gave me the shot himself. I really dislike needles, so, I didn’t watch, but even though the needles on TV appear to be 12 inches long, it was quick and, as promised, just a little nick at the start. Someone told me to take a painkiller, ice the spot and keep the arm moving. Bill said no to the pills and ice unless the pain was unbearable, but I drove home waving my left arm wildly.

It’s different for everyone, but I only have my own story: No pain that day, sore to the touch the next day but otherwise just the same old arm. And knowing how short on vaccine the Berkshires have been, I was mostly just grateful to get one. And make an appointment for the other half.

In the meantime, kudos go to the dozens and dozens of nurses, doctors and organizers who have spent weeks, months getting ready for a major operation across Berkshire County. Vials efficiently went to nursing homes, health care workers and first responders and, starting last week, to people 75 and older who aren’t in nursing homes. The head counters say the county has 18,000 of us — but not enough vaccine was sent to take care of that many.

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But, we septua and octo and nona people filled the 3,000 available slots in short order. Those who went to larger venues reported efficient setups and workers ready to answer questions. For me, no line, no wait, except the prescribed stay while everyone makes sure you’re not dizzy or otherwise affected by the shot.

Kudos to the Berkshires came from the outside, too. Marylou Sudders, the commonwealth’s secretary of Health and Human Services, said Thursday that the Berkshires, at 7 percent per capita, had the highest vaccination rate in the state. She credited the success to a collaboration between public health and private providers, with the Berkshire County Boards of Health Association, headed by Laura Kitross, playing a key role.

Despite the usual difficulties when a lot of people have to sign up online — and so many don’t know how, plus some websites crashed — the vaccine rolled out well here. One reason was apparently having Berkshire Health Systems as a depot and distributor for vaccine shipments. Another certainly was that our health people — hospitals, boards of health, community officials — developed a basic emergency plan years ago and could refine it when the need came.

What a difference it makes when the homework is done. While arms are being jabbed in more than a half-dozen places here, people in Greenfield have one pharmacy signed on for the job. The concerned in Franklin County should be raising more than an eyebrow. And the situation is not much better in Hampshire County, which has two sites in Amherst and only one in Northampton. In the sprawling geography of Western Massachusetts, that’s clearly not enough.

A word to those who may be deciding not to go: You’re scared because it’s new, you hate shots, you feel invincible. The answer is to do it for everyone else, just as we wear masks, squirt endless amounts of soap, support the hand wipes market and deny ourselves the warmth of a nice hug. The rest of us need all of you.

Ruth Bass is an award-winning journalist. Her website is ruthbass.com. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.