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Brightview senior living centers in Bel Air host first COVID-19 vaccination clinics for residents, staff

Everyone felt like a hero at Brightview Avondell on Monday — partially because of the capes drawn over senior residents’ and associates’ backs, but also because nearly all of the Bel Air senior living center’s residents received their first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

The senior living center opened its first vaccination clinic Monday, inoculating 175 of its seniors — approximately 99% of the community’s total population. A follow-up date for the second dose of the vaccine is scheduled for Feb. 15, and to give new residents and staff their first dose. Between Avondell and Brightview’s assisted living facility, both located along Ring Factory Road in Bel Air, nearly 400 people were vaccinated Monday. About 70% of the staff received the vaccine, which is not mandatory.

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At Avondell, five Walgreens pharmacists sat at tables in a side room of the senior center, dutifully taking forms and administering vaccines to the residents, who had to wait 15 minutes in an adjoining room to be observed for any negative side effects, each recipient with a digital timer clamped in hand or resting on their lap.

When their timers beeped, the recipients would head to get coffee, cookies and a picture of them styled to look like superheroes, flowing cape and comic-book backdrop included. Andy Anderson, the executive director for the Avondell community, said the staff decided on the superhero photo shoot for those who got the vaccine to recognize their part in halting the virus’ transmission — protecting themselves and others.

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“They are superheros; that is why we did it like this,” he said.

The vaccination effort felt like taking part in history, Anderson said, and he praised the residents’ willingness to get the shot. Anderson said staff anticipated close to 90% of residents to consent to receiving the vaccine, but the near-complete agreement from the seniors spoke to how seriously they are taking the virus.

“It has been a lift, but a very necessary and a very welcome one, because this is us getting over yet another major hurdle in this pandemic,” Anderson said. “This community has risen to every challenge that it has been given, and for 99% of our residents to say ‘I want to be a part of the solution,’ it just speaks volumes to the people that live here.”

Carolyn Beckelheimer, 94, said she had no apprehensions about getting the vaccine. Sitting in the observation room, with the clock counting down, she said she never thought an international pandemic would strike during her lifetime, requiring her to get a vaccine and wear a mask. She talked with her friends about getting the shot; they were all in agreement. She exhorted other eligible people to get vaccinated.

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“I just hope everybody that has a chance to get it will get it,” she said, “not think just about themselves, but other people too.”

Allie Cullen, 95, said she was apprehensive about getting the vaccine at first but came to see it as necessary — and safe — after hearing from experts. Though not all members of her family want to get vaccinated, she opted to receive it to ward off the virus.

To date, the Avondell center has had no outbreaks, Anderson said.

With the vaccine comes an extra layer of security for residents, regional vice president of operations for Brightview Patrick Doyle said, but it is not a panacea. Masking and distancing requirements will still be observed, but the vaccines will help insulate residents from the threat of asymptomatic patients.

Visitors to the community must answer a COVID questionnaire and get their temperatures taken, but asymptomatic carriers of the virus are a challenge to identify. The vaccine will give the residents and staff more peace of mind.

“We are not going to change the social distancing or wearing the masks or doing all of those things,” Doyle said.

Many of the pre-pandemic activities and services the residents enjoyed have been restored over the past few months, Doyle said, with the modification of masking and social distancing. The residents can still dine together, play cards and enjoy entertainers who come to the center — though sometimes through video conference. Visitation is also open at the community, though with a limit on the total number of visitors at a time.

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