Sen. Comerford visits Orange clinic she helped link to county vaccine supply

  • Safety Officer Cam Dunbar, who also sits on the New Salem Board of Health, and state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, welcome volunteers for the drive-thru COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Ralph C. Mahar Regional School on Saturday morning. STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

  • Volunteers work together at the drive-thru COVID-19 vaccine clinic Saturday at Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/ MARY BYRNE

  • As many as 270 doses were expected to be administered at a drive-thru COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Ralph C. Mahar Regional School on Saturday morning. STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE


Staff Writer
Published: 4/11/2021 3:39:53 PM
Modified: 4/11/2021 3:39:52 PM

ORANGE — Thanks to the advocacy of a local legislator and the work of local volunteers, COVID-19 vaccines continue to make it into the arms of individuals at the drive-thru clinic at Ralph C. Mahar Regional School.

“The concern was that supply for the state was throttled back and ... we wouldn’t be able to get the supply we needed to run this particular clinic,” said Cam Dunbar, who served as the safety officer for the drive-thru vaccine clinic at the school on Saturday.

State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, explained that in late February, when the state required regional health collaboratives to have the capacity to give 750 vaccines per day, five days per week, the site at Mahar was at risk for not getting enough supply to continue its clinics.

“They were getting the vaccine from Worcester County,” Comerford said during a visit to the clinic on Saturday morning. “When that last disruption (in supply) happened, there was a risk this site wouldn’t be able to happen because it had been tethered to Worcester County.”

Because the town is often coupled with Athol, which is in Worcester County, it belongs to the Worcester County Health District.

“We obviously support the Greenfield operation,” Dunbar said. “We just figured, geographically, it was advantageous to have an option between Greenfield, Gardner and Amherst in the North Quabbin area.”

So when the supply was running low, clinic organizers reached out to Comerford.

“We worked quickly,” she said. “I connected them with the regional collaborative that’s spanning Franklin County.”

After all, she added, Orange is part of Franklin County.

Health Agent Matthew Fortier said as a result, the site has been getting its vaccine supply through its relationship with the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG).

“After today, we’ll have done 1,900 doses,” Fortier said. “We will have (fully) vaccinated almost 1,000 people by the end of the day.”

Fortier said he is looking at a bigger allocation in the coming weeks — about 550 doses, and an additional 40 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccines for homebound individuals.

“Our scaling up is happening,” he said. “We’ll continue to do clinics for as long as necessary.”

On Saturday morning, the clinic anticipated giving out 270 doses, Dunbar said.

“Seventy-five percent of the people who are in the clinic — and in clinics in general — are not from this area,” he said. “They’re from all over the state. We just wanted to make sure we gave people an additional option to receive the vaccine with the dedicated volunteers who wanted to do it.”

He said Saturday’s volunteers were a mixture from the North Quabbin communities.

“The goal for the group has been to … build a system, make sure it worked and tweak what needed to be changed,” Dunbar said. “And then, to focus on getting almost 100 cars an hour to go through.”

Dunbar said being able to offer residents the Orange clinic, staffed by local volunteers, often cuts down on the fear and anxiety the pandemic has caused, but it also provides a way for people who don’t have adequate transportation to get to locations farther away.

“It’s a momentous public health victory,” he said.

Mary Byrne can be reached at or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne

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