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First Residents At Holyoke, Chelsea Soldiers' Homes Receive COVID Vaccine

HOLYOKE (CBS) – The first COVID vaccines were issued Tuesday at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home and Chelsea Soldiers' Home, two facilities that were hit hard during the coronavirus pandemic.

The virus has been blamed for the deaths of 76 residents at the Holyoke complex, one of the worst outbreaks at a long-term care facility in the country.

In Chelsea, more than 30 people died from COVID-19.

In Holyoke Tuesday morning, U.S. Air Force Airman 2nd Class Robert Aucoin, 78, became the facility's first veteran to receive the vaccine. Aucoin served from 1961-65 in the Vietnam era.

"I am very happy about getting the vaccine. My wish is that everyone in the world can get the vaccine," Aucoin said.

Robert Aucoin
Robert Aucoin, 78, a U.S. Air Force veteran and resident at the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke, receiving the first COVID-19 vaccine at the Home. (Photo credit: Leon Nguyen/The Springfield Republican)

Later in the morning at Chelsea Soldiers' Home, 94-year-old Dominic Pitella received the vaccine.

Dominic Pitella
Dominic Pitella, 94, a U.S. Army Air Corps veteran and resident at the Soldiers' Home in Chelsea, receiving the first COVID-19 vaccine at the Home. (Photo credit: Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe)

Pitella served as a corporal in the U.S. Army Air Corps. A former cook with the 559th Air Service Group, he served in the Pacific Theater during World War II from 1945-1946, earning the Army of Occupation Medal, World War II Victory Medal, and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal.

Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement on Tuesday that he hopes that the vaccine "provides relief and hope" for the people at the homes.

"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," said Gov. Baker.  "We are pleased to start providing the first dose to the incredible men and women living in both the Holyoke and Chelsea facilities to offer more protection from COVID-19, and remain grateful to the dedicated staff who are working tirelessly to keep our veterans safe and healthy during the pandemic."

CVS Health says its pharmacists will travel to about 2,000 long-term care facilities around Massachusetts to vaccinate about 173,000 people in the upcoming months.

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