Vaccination day at the JAA
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COVID-19Jewish Association on Aging

Vaccination day at the JAA

After months of window visits and gathering restrictions, new chapter begins in pandemic narrative

JAA resident Larry receives the Pfizer vaccine. Photo courtesy of Jewish Association on Aging
JAA resident Larry receives the Pfizer vaccine. Photo courtesy of Jewish Association on Aging

It isn’t typical for guitar riffs to blast through the halls of the Jewish Association on Aging, or to find staff and residents celebrating with pomp in the midst of a pandemic, but Jan. 12 wasn’t a typical day. After 10 months of COVID-19-related lockdown — a period when window visits between loved ones became the norm — representatives of CVS Health began administering the Pfizer vaccine on JAA premises.

Around 11 a.m. Tuesday morning, a line of socially distanced residents and staff formed in the Beechwood unit at Charles M. Morris Nursing Home & Rehabilitation Center.

Cheryl Thompson, a 34-year JAA veteran and licensed practical nurse, was the organization’s first staff member to receive vaccination, which she said felt no different than a regular flu shot.

Kenneth M. Goldman, a 98-year-old metallurgist, agreed.

“I could hardly feel it,” he said.

Goldman, the first JAA resident to receive vaccination, recalled how, 65 years earlier, family members received shots to prevent polio, but said the two periods of historic vaccination couldn’t be compared.

“It's like apples and bananas and oranges,” said the nonagenarian.

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine, though, was exciting, continued Goldman, because it represents hope for the future and the ability to see friends and family in person again.

Cheryl Thompson, a 34-year JAA veteran, receives the Pfizer vaccine. Photo courtesy of Jewish Association on Aging

For residents and staff, after such “an incredibly difficult and challenging year,” there is a “sense of optimism that the end is in sight with this virus,” said Deborah Winn-Horvitz, JAA’s president and CEO. “It's been so long since we have had something really to celebrate and to feel very positive about.”

Long-term care facilities in Allegheny County have been devastated by COVID-19. According to Pennsylvania’s Department of Health, 155 facilities have had COVID-positive cases resulting in 739 deaths.

Although the JAA successfully managed to avoid COVID-19’s initial waves, its facilities fell prey to the virus in early August when six Charles M. Morris Nursing & Rehabilitation Center residents, who tested positive for COVID-19, died, as did one Weinberg Terrace resident.

When nearly 10 representatives of CVS Health arrived at the JAA on Jan. 12, it signaled a new chapter in the pandemic narrative, explained Winn-Horvitz.

Months earlier, the JAA had registered for the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program, a CDC initiative that enables long-term care facilities to partner with pharmacies, including CVS and Walgreens, to provide on-site COVID-19 vaccination services. As one of more than 75,000 facilities participating in the program, the JAA receives free “end-to-end management of the COVID-19 vaccination process, including cold chain management, on-site vaccinations and fulfillment of reporting requirements,” according to the CDC.

Kenneth M. Goldman was the first JAA resident to receive the Pfizer vaccine. Photo courtesy of Jewish Association on Aging

JAA staff cleared logistical hurdles so that vaccination day could run successfully. Not only did employees create a clinic on site where colleagues and residents could safely gather prior to receiving injections from members of CVS’ vaccination team, but they also developed a plan to ensure individuals who were unable to travel to the Beechwood unit could also receive shots, explained Winn-Horvitz.

The efforts paid off. Between injections administered in the makeshift clinic and those delivered during individual room visits at Ahava Memory Care, Weinberg Terrace and Weinberg Village, more than 120 residents were vaccinated at the JAA on Jan. 12. And, one day later, CVS Health representatives returned and delivered nearly 260 more vaccinations.

By the end of Jan. 13, more than 500 people, including residents and staff from The New Riverview, were vaccinated at the JAA, noted Tinsy Labrie, JAA’s director of marketing and public relations.

As vaccination day — a period that technically spanned almost 48 hours — continued at the JAA, staff worked to foster enthusiasm and create an almost arena-like atmosphere: Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” and Queen’s “We Are the Champions” played repeatedly; JAA staff proudly hoisted vaccine-related signage; and a ribboned medal, with the words “I’m a JAA vaccine champion,” was presented to each resident and staff member who received a jab.

Yes, the mood was festive, but ultimately everything proceeded rather routinely, explained Goldman.

When asked how he celebrated after receiving the shot, he replied, “I went back to my apartment and had lunch: tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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