First COVID-19 vaccines go to frontline hospital workers

Hospital set to vaccinate 85 employees by end of year.



There was an air of excitement and relief at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital Thursday morning as Dr. Karen Casper and Sandra Carvalho, an environmental services worker, were the first two people on Martha’s Vineyard to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Shots were administered by Marcy Holmes, nurse practitioner of internal medicine and occupational health.

“It was so easy…I’m so glad I have the vaccine,” Casper said moments after getting the first COVID-19 vaccine on the Island. “It’s very emotional. It’s such a tribute to our scientists across our country that have worked endlessly to do this for all of us to me it’s just amazing.”

Casper added that with the vaccine there’s a chance to now get ahead of COVID-19 and one day return to a sense of normalcy.

“In the emergency department this has been our life since March. To me, this is what I believe in for our country that we can tackle a disease like this and we can work together and trust our scientists. People have worked endless hours to do this for all of us and to me that’s amazing. I believe in that dream, always have.”

The hospital received its first 40 vaccine doses on Wednesday. Another 45 doses will arrive on the Island next week — allowing the hospital to vaccinate 85 employees before year’s end.

The Pfizer vaccine comes in two doses with a 21-day period between each dose. Residents and staff of Windemere Nursing & Rehabilitation Center are set to receive vaccines through a federal program operated by CVS Pharmacy.

Carvalho, who received the second shot, said she was excited to plan a trip next year to see her family in Brazil. She said she didn’t feel a thing.

“The nurse’s hands are so good, like an angel,” Carvalho said. “I hope the rest of my family gets the vaccine too. I’m so glad for the Island…I love this Island. I’ve lived here for 20 years. I love the people.”

Valci Carvalho, Sandra’s son and a pharmacist at the hospital, said he felt the vaccine was a step in the right direction.

“This is definitely exciting. I think it’s the added layer of protection we’ve been hoping for and maybe sometime next year we will be able to do away with these,” he said pointing to his mask.

Carvalho said the frontline workers will be taken care of first before the next group of workers who are vaccinated.

Speaking to reporters on a conference call later in the day, Dr. Casper said the hospital staff have felt supported throughout the pandemic.

“As a community and as an institution we were really able, with [Mass General Brigham], feel really comfortable and have enough [personal protective equipment],” Dr. Casper said. “How it’s been to work here, at first really scary, but secondarily just really supported and really being able to be helpful and take care of our patients.”

While she didn’t think she would be the first person on the Vineyard to get a vaccine only nine months after the pandemic started, Dr. Casper said she was proud of the hardworking scientists who made it possible.

She said the vaccine did not hurt and several hours after getting the dose she feels great.

“It’s epic in a sense. It’s like being part of history,” Dr. Casper said. “I can’t believe we’re actually here and how lucky and fortunate we are to work together.”

The hospital is vaccinating other frontline staff members throughout the day. Dr. Casper said there’s a huge interest from staff members to get the vaccine.

“I personally feel, for myself, for my colleagues, that this is the best thing I could do. I feel very confident and comfortable getting the vaccine,” she said. “I think if you’re not sure about it I think the data will play out that you’ll feel more comfortable and confident as time goes by.”

Dr. Casper has worked with several COVID-19 positive patients and she said getting the vaccine is just another layer of protection.

“I’m honored to take care of them,” she said. “I’m going to continue to use my PPE, but I do feel like I have another layer of protection and that’s exciting.”

Updated with a more in-depth interview.