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Vaccinated health care workers board Patriots plane for Super Bowl

Health care workers board the Patriots team plane to attend Super Bowl LV in Tampa on Sunday morning.
Health care workers board the Patriots team plane to attend Super Bowl LV in Tampa on Sunday morning.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Lahey Hospital & Medical Center pharmacist Eunice Yuyun thought she was in trouble last week when she got an unexpected call from the president of the hospital.

She wasn’t. After a grueling pandemic year, he had some good news for her.

“He called and asked me if I like football,” Yuyun said. Members of the Kraft family, owners of the New England Patriots, were sending 76 vaccinated health care workers to the Super Bowl in Tampa. Would she want to go?

“I just started screaming out,” Yuyun said. “I didn’t wait for him to finish the rest.”

The Kraft family is flying 76 vaccinated health care workers representing all six New England states to attend Super Bowl LV.
The Kraft family is flying 76 vaccinated health care workers representing all six New England states to attend Super Bowl LV.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

On Sunday morning, hours before the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were scheduled for kickoff, Yuyun and a group of excited health care workers climbed up the stairs of the Patriots’ team plane, which had a new decal affixed to the front, near the door: “When it’s your turn, take the shot. Get vaccinated.”

Governor Charlie Baker was there to thank the medical workers who have been caring for COVID-19 patients for almost 11 months, noting that he last visited the airport hangar they were departing from when the same New England Patriots plane delivered a shipment of desperately needed KN95 masks in early April.

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“You’re carrying a tremendous burden, serving and taking care of and saving the lives of so many people during this pandemic,” Baker told the health care workers in a brief speech. He did not take questions.

The contrast between those early days of the pandemic and the cold Super Bowl morning was stark, Patriots president Jonathan Kraft said at the event.

Kraft recalled touring an intensive care unit in March, sensing “palpable fear” in workers who had to ration personal protective equipment as they cared for patients dying from a disease medical professionals still knew little about.

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Now, Kraft said, he could marvel at a plane full of vaccinated health care workers “who not only served us courageously but have shown the leadership to take the vaccine.”

“We would just encourage everybody, when it’s your turn, take the shot,” Kraft said as health care workers behind him cheered. “Get vaccinated.”

Massachusetts General Hospital nurse Paula Restrepo, who has worked with COVID-19 patients in the hospital’s intensive care unit, said she treated patients in their sickest and most difficult moments.

Getting the first dose of the vaccine in December was, for her, “the light at the end of the tunnel,” Restrepo said.

Nine-time special teams Pro Bowl player Matthew Slater, who also addressed the health care workers, said he understood what they had experienced — his wife, a doctor, has seen it.

“I know it’s been a challenging time for all of us, emotionally, physically, financially,” Slater said. “The last year has really put a strain on a lot of us. But I think that during that time, as we’ve experienced a wide range of emotions, we’ve seen the best in people.”

Nurse Jessica Tellier, who works in the critical care unit at Emerson Hospital in Concord, expressed how thankful she was to be vaccinated and to be able to go to Tampa for the game.

“Lets hope that the Pats get to ride on this plane next year,” she quipped.


Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at gal.lotan@globe.com or at 617-929-2043.