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More than three-quarters of staff at Holyoke Soldiers’ Home have received at least one COVID vaccine dose

U.S. Air Force Veteran Robert Aucoin, 78, signals a thumb up after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine dose at the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke, Mass., on Dec. 29, 2020.

HOANG 'LEON' NGUYEN/THE REPUBLICAN

By STEPHANIE BARRY | masslive.com | Published: January 23, 2021

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HOLYOKE, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — More than three-quarters of the employees at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to state officials and an analysis by The Republican / MassLive.

Of an estimated 304 full- and part-time staff in Holyoke, 240 — or, about 79% — have received at least one dose. Of those, 153 have already received both doses, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services said.

By comparison, of an estimated 297 employees at the Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea, 208 — or, about 70% — have received at least one dose. Of those, 111 have had both shots. The numbers were current as of Wednesday.

The staffing estimates are based on the most recent payroll data from the state comptroller’s office. The Health and Human Services office did not provide staffing figures.

State officials said a final vaccination clinic will take place on Feb. 9 at both homes to complete second doses and vaccinate staff who newly consent.

The vaccines are voluntary; administrators cannot mandate that staff get the vaccine, despite the heightened risk of spreading the virus at long-term care facilities.

In terms of veteran residents of the homes, 163 have received at least one dose in Chelsea and 116 in Holyoke. As of Tuesday, the Holyoke home had 113 veteran residents at the main facility on Cherry Street and another 11 in off-site units.

So far, 359,919 doses have been administered across Massachusetts since Dec. 15, when vaccinations began. The first veterans and employees at the soldiers’ homes were vaccinated on Dec. 29.

Long-term care facilities were prioritized on Gov. Charlie Baker’s vaccine distribution plan along with other vulnerable populations.

That vulnerability was tragically highlighted at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home when the pandemic began peaking last March. By mid-June at least 76 veterans had died after testing positive, many more were sickened and more than 80 staff contracted the virus.

Family members have viewed the vaccine as a gateway to resume in-person family visits, which have been largely locked down for the past 10 months. During a Special Legislative Oversight Committee hearing on Thursday, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said she has instructed administrators for both homes to try to devise some creative way for families to see their loved ones again.

“Until such time as we have herd immunity, we’re going to have positive cases,” Sudders told the committee.

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