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Vermonters vaccinated

Williston firefighter joins frontline workers in first group to receive shot

By Jason Starr, Observer staff

Williston firefighter Dave Auriemma was among the first 15 people in Vermont to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at an event Tuesday at the UVM Medical Center in Burlington. 

He was there to represent first responders throughout the state as frontline workers who have remained on the job through the pandemic. Others to receive the first doses of the vaccine — created by Pfizer/BioNTech under the federal government’s “Warp Speed” initiative — on Tuesday included hospital doctors and nurses.

“I was very excited to have the opportunity to do this,” Auriemma said. “I’m sure there are many other individuals in the fire and EMS services that would have stepped up to the plate and done it. We are on the front lines of this and it’s important for us to take care of ourselves so we can take care of our communities.”

The vaccine requires a second dose 21 days after the first. Williston Fire Chief Aaron Collette said more of the department’s firefighters and EMS staff will be vaccinated in the coming weeks.

“We want to move forward and get past this pandemic,” said Auriemma. “I want to see my daughters playing sports and outside with their friends, smiling and laughing. Right now it’s tough for everybody.”

According to Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine, the state will receive about 6,000 doses weekly through the end of the year, and initial distribution will focus on high-risk health care workers, emergency first-responders and residents of long-term care facilities. 

UVM Medical Center administrators contacted the Williston Fire Department about having a local firefighter be among the first group, according to Chief Collette.

Interviewed about two hours after he received the shot, Auriemma said he was feeling no side effects. He received documentation at the vaccine event about potential side effects and said he would monitor how he was feeling in the coming days. 

“I’m confident that the folks responsible for doing the research and creating the vaccines are doing the right thing, so I personally felt confident that I didn’t really have anything to worry about other than the typical side effects that might come with any type of medication that you take,” he said. “I don’t foresee myself having any issues, just based on my past vaccinations.”  

Collette said he hopes all residents follow Auriemma’s lead and get vaccinated as doses become more widely available. 

In addition to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the state has pre-ordered about 20,000 doses of a vaccine from Moderna, pending its approval by the FDA, Levine said. Vaccine doses are being sent to hospitals around the state. After health care workers and emergency first-responders, the next priority group will be people over the age of 65 and people under 65 with chronic or immune-compromising conditions, Levine said. 

“For most Vermonters, it will likely be several months before the vaccine is widely available,” he said. “But when it is available to you, you will know, through our own communications and through our partners — the health care providers, pharmacies and others who will provide the vaccine across the state.

“This is a truly pivotal moment in the pandemic, one that should give us hope for the future,” Levine continued. “But at the same time, we must remember this is just the start of a long process to receive and administer enough vaccine to bring COVID-19 under control.”

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