Massachusetts Starts Vaccinating Veterans Home Residents

Soldiers' Home in Holyoke COVID-19 vaccine
U.S. Air Force Veteran Robert Aucoin, 78, arrives at the main lobby inside Soldiers' Home in Holyoke for his COVID-19 vaccine dose in Holyoke, Mass., Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. (Hoang 'Leon' Nguyen/The Republican via AP)

BOSTON — With a thumbs up and a round of applause from staff, Air Force veteran Robert Aucoin on Tuesday became the first resident of the Holyoke Soldiers' Home in Massachusetts to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“Great, great, leading the way," Aucoin, 78, said through his Snoopy mask after getting the first shot of the Pfizer vaccine.

Aucoin, who has lived at the state-run home since 2018, served from 1961 to 1965 and worked as the control tower operator at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina during his service, according to the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

The state has made it a priority to get the residents of both the Holyoke facility and the Chelsea Soldier's Home vaccinated after the coronavirus tore through both facilities for veterans who require long-term care in the spring.

Staff vaccinations also started Tuesday.

“Administering vaccines to our frontline health care workers and now some of our most vulnerable residents in the Soldiers’ Home provides relief and hope that there are brighter days ahead for all,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement.

The Holyoke home had one of the country’s deadliest virus outbreaks at a long-term care facility. Seventy-six residents died after contracting the virus in the spring and a 77th died earlier this month.

More than 30 residents of the Chelsea home died after contracting the disease.

An investigation into the Holyoke outbreak by a formal federal prosecutor hired by Baker found that management at the home made several “utterly baffling” decisions that helped the disease run rampant.

Two former top administrators have pleaded not guilty to criminal negligence charges connected to the deaths.

In Chelsea, World War II veteran Dominic Pitella, 94, was the first resident to be vaccinated.

Pitella, a former corporal and cook with the 559th Air Service Group, served in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He has lived at the home since 2018, according to state officials.

“I’m hopeful this will help everybody,” Pitella said in a statement.

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