FRCOG roundtable: Be patient for COVID-19 vaccine

  • ROGERS

  • DUNLAVY

  • WALKER

Staff Writer
Published: 3/10/2021 3:56:31 PM
Modified: 3/10/2021 4:00:06 PM

Everyone who wants a COVID-19 vaccine will eventually get one, but people need to be patient, was the message during the Franklin Regional Council of Governments’ biweekly COVID-19 Roundtable on Monday.

“We’re not even in the middle of (vaccinating) yet,” FRCOG Director of Community Services Phoebe Walker told public health officials from around the county. She added that 18 percent of Franklin County residents have received the first dose of the vaccine, while 9 percent have had a second dose.

The good news, she said, is that the number of positive COVID-19 cases reported throughout the county is back to the level they were at before Thanksgiving, when they had started to surge again.

This week, Orange alerted people to it opening registration to its Saturday clinic at Ralph C. Mahar Regional School, offering a private link and letting people know by phone. It was posted publicly on the state’s website as it must be at 2:55 that afternoon and was filled by 3.

Orange Health Agent Matthew Fortier said people from across the state are signed up for the clinic, with residents from more than 60 towns outside of Franklin County.

FRCOG Executive Director Linda Dunlavy said regional collaborators have been doing a wonderful job vaccinating those who are eligible, but the state has to do a much better job at supplying the vaccine. Currently, the collaboration — which includes FRCOG, the city of Greenfield and several other county towns — must open their clinics up to everyone who is eligible, including people from outside of the county.

Dunlavy noted that 25 percent of the vaccines the collaboration receives can be reserved for Franklin County residents, while 75 percent must be available to whomever registers, even if they live across the state. She said she would prefer to see that number be more like 60 percent to county residents and 40 percent to outsiders.

“We’ll comply with the 25 percent, but we’ve sent a letter to the state,” she said.

Public health officials who attended the COVID-19 Roundtable said they would like to send letters to the state, too, explaining that they feel Franklin County again is not getting its fair share.

For the most part, Dunlavy said, the collaboration has been able to fill most clinics with Franklin County residents by announcing them “legally,” so that they are first in line. She said Franklin County didn’t receive as many vaccines as it ordered for this week, and that might happen off and on for a while.

Deerfield Board of Health and Selectboard member Carolyn Shores Ness said she believes distribution of the vaccine is politically motivated and, as usual, rural towns suffer.

FRCOG Emergency Preparedness Program Manager Tracy Rogers said she thinks the number of vaccines the county receives over the next several weeks will vary, with towns sometimes getting what they ordered and sometimes receiving less.

“We’ll find out week to week what we’re getting,” she said. “On Thursday, we start vaccinating school staffs. We’re working out the details, but we’ll have to see how quickly we can get it done. We have to put aside vaccines for people’s second doses, and then we can use what we’ve got to vaccinate school staffs.”

Rogers said, for instance, it appears if the collaboration receives between 2,100 and 2,300 vaccines next week and has to put aside 700 to 800 for second doses, it doesn’t leave much for school employees.

“We’d just make a dent in school staff,” she said. “Child care providers will also have to be vaccinated.”

The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office’s medical team has joined the efforts to vaccinate school staff members. Rogers said she’s not yet sure if there will be a central location where all school employees get vaccinated, or if the sheriff’s medical team will travel to area high schools and vaccinate staff members from each regional district.

“We also have to make sure we’re reserving doses for Franklin County residents who can’t travel anywhere else for a vaccine,” Rogers said.

Walker said another issue the county is facing is that many appointments for second doses are being canceled because there aren’t enough vaccines to guarantee people will get them at the four-week mark. Instead, they are being rescheduled for six weeks after the first dose, which is not a problem in terms of protection.

“Six weeks is absolutely fine,” Walker said. “People shouldn’t worry.”

New website

FRCOG has a new website at franklincountymavaccine.org where people can register to get a COVID-19 vaccine at several locations. While officials said it is a “work in progress,” they said it seems to be working well so far.

“People can use the website as a one-stop shop,” Walker said.

The website includes links to the different clinics, a COVID-19 hotline, testing site registration and more. They said the big change is that people won’t have to see a message that says there’s a “12,000-minute wait.”

FRCOG will let people know each Monday, for now, what time they should expect to be able to register for a vaccine. Then, most likely at 3 p.m. each Monday, the link will go live on the state’s website, opening it up to anyone who is eligible.

Homebound residents

Rogers said the state envisions a program where it’s clearly defined about who qualifies as someone who is homebound. Health officials have yet to learn whether there will be vaccines set aside for the homebound. It is believed there are between 150 and 170 homebound individuals in Franklin County.

“We assume that vaccinating them will be like is being done with congregate housing,” she said. “That’s an optimistic assumption.”

Every board of health throughout the county will answer a survey with one question — whether they would like to administer the vaccine to the homebound in their town or would like the state’s private vendor to do so.

Rogers said she believes vaccinating the homebound will begin March 22. FRCOG is prepared to send nurses out to its 15 members towns to administer vaccines.

“We’re working with LifePath to identify people,” she said. “We’ll also have to make sure we have people to check on them after they’re vaccinated.”

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.

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