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Selectboards push for increased focus on local COVID-19 vaccination sites

  • COVID-19 vaccinations were offered Thursday and Friday at the new Tree House Brewing site, formerly the Channing Bete Co. building, in South Deerfield. Deerfield, Whately and Sunderland have all signed a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker opposing the prioritization of mass COVID-19 vaccination sites over local vaccination sites such as this one. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Vials of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 2/26/2021 4:57:21 PM

Deerfield, Whately and Sunderland have all signed a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker opposing the prioritization of mass COVID-19 vaccination sites over local vaccination sites.

“We just have to try to get more vaccines — more vaccines to come into Franklin County,” said Deerfield Board of Health Chair Carolyn Shores Ness at the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) vaccine clinic at Tree House Brewing on Thursday, where 500 doses were scheduled to be administered over two days. “We certainly have the capacity to do much more, and we’re hoping the governor will see this.”

All three Selectboards discussed and signed the letter this week, which argued that local governments are intimately familiar with their communities.

“We know who our most vulnerable and hard-to-reach populations are and have plans in place to work with them,” the letter states. “The mass vaccination sites fail to account for those high-risk individuals in need, especially in rural communities that lack adequate public transportation options.”

At a Sunderland Selectboard meeting earlier this week, Selectboard member Tom Fydenkevez said Gov. Baker fails to understand the importance of individual communities.

“We don’t really have any mass transit; we can’t get from Point A to Point B easily,” he said. “Having mass vaccination sites in Springfield and Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park — they may be able to push numbers, but you’re not going to actually gain inroads into our population that needs the service.”

Fydenkevez noted that even when seniors in the southern Franklin County towns are offered appointments in either Greenfield or Deerfield, they “uniformly” opt for Deerfield.

He added that local legislators, including state Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, and state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, have also been concerned with the “lack of planning” on the state’s part. Comerford, he noted, is part of a joint committee in the Legislature to help restore equity in the distribution of vaccines.

Whately Selectboard member Jonathan Edwards said at a Selectboard meeting Wednesday night that while there are many people who believe mass vaccination sites are more effective, they present barriers to a large segment of the population.

“The challenge of mass sites is they are a huge barrier to people without online capabilities for signing up,” Edwards said. “It means they’re in large places that potentially are not convenient to more rural places.”

Edwards added that Franklin County has been practicing vaccine distribution for almost 20 years through flu clinics.

“We really do know what we’re doing,” he said.

Whately Town Administrator Brian Domina said the state’s emphasis on mass vaccination sites means more vaccines are sent to larger, more urban communities in Western Massachusetts, as opposed to locally run clinics, such as the one held at Tree House Brewing.

“What the state is saying is … ‘We’re going to give 500 (vaccines) to Eastfield Mall in Springfield, because it’s a regional site, because it’s Western Mass. so everybody can get to Springfield,’” he said. “That’s the stance the state is taking.”

The distance to a vaccine site is enough to deter people from getting the vaccine, Domina added.

“Convenience (of getting a) vaccine is one reason to get the vaccine,” Edwards said. “We don’t want to put up obstacles to get the vaccine, we want to remove obstacles to get the vaccine.”

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

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