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Turners Falls High School hosts mobile vax clinic: ‘Giving people opportunities to get vaccinated’

  • Ritin Patel and Jennifer Georgina of Behavioral Health Network check in people to the vaccination clinic held at Turners Falls High School on Monday. Standing are Gill-Montague Regional School District Spanish liasion Jimena De Pareja and student Leidy Villafana. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Erving resident Jessica Orrell brought her children, Emma Jardine, 11, and Mackenzie Jardine, 9, to the vaccination clinic held at Turners Falls High School on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/24/2022 5:41:46 PM
Modified: 1/24/2022 5:40:29 PM

TURNERS FALLS — Students and families filed into the cafeteria of Turners Falls High School Monday afternoon — for some, to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while for others to receive their booster.

“I want to be protected, and I want others to be protected,” said Patricia Thompson, as she left the clinic after receiving her booster.

Thompson was among more than 100 people to register for a vaccine at the high school on Turnpike Road, according to Melissa Bednarksi, nurse leader for the Gill-Montague Regional School District. Although it was mostly registrations for COVID-19 vaccines, there were a “fair amount” of flu vaccines to be administered, too, she said.

Of those registrations were Erving resident Jessica Orrell’s two children, who received their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at Monday’s clinic.

“Hopefully, if they do get it, it won’t be as bad,” she said.

Bednarksi said the mobile clinic was the fourth to be offered at the school, the first of which was organized by the Community Health Center of Franklin County in an effort to get students vaccinated before the summer.

“We’re hoping now to get that population boosted,” she explained.

The clinic held at Turners Falls High School on Monday was the latest effort by the state and local groups to improve access to the COVID-19 vaccine. Previously, similar clinics were held at elementary schools across Franklin County using the state Department of Public Health-funded Vax Buses.

Additional mobile clinics will also be set up in the coming weeks at Franklin County Technical School in Montague, Mohawk Trail Regional School in Buckland, Dexter Park Elementary School in Orange, the John Zon Community Center in Greenfield and Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield.

The mobile vaccine clinics, which are co-sponsored by the Behavioral Health Network, are a collaboration of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG), local school districts and health departments to bring state-funded COVID-19 and flu vaccination clinics to the community, according to FRCOG. All three vaccines will be available at each clinic, as will the flu vaccine.

“The mobile clinics are filling a gap in access to boosters and first doses for many people,” said Phoebe Walker, director of community services for FRCOG. “Although vaccination rates in our region are excellent, they could definitely be better.”

Currently, children ages 5 to 18 years old are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, and everyone 12 years old and older is eligible for a booster shot.

As of the state’s most recent report, released Jan. 18, 74% of eligible residents in Franklin County are fully vaccinated. Fully vaccinated, in this case, refers to those who have received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or one dose of Johnson & Johnson.

“That’s still a better rate than the counties to our south, but significantly worse than other places in the state,” Walker said.

Still, only about 53% of Franklin County residents are fully vaccinated with a booster, she noted.

“We do know the boosters are a huge help in keeping people safe,” Walker said.

According to the report, 85% percent of the eligible residents in Franklin County have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

“Our feeling is if we can keep giving people opportunities to get vaccinated … we’ll catch up with folks,” she said.

Walker acknowledged more work needs to be done engaging Latino residents of Franklin County, as that population has some of the lowest rates overall. She added that, as for vaccinations of the youngest eligible population, “we still have a long way to go,” with about 47% of 5- to 11-year-olds vaccinated.

At Turners Falls High School, Jimena De Pareja, the Spanish-speaking liaison for the school district, was busy Monday afternoon helping students and families complete the necessary paperwork to sign in for their vaccine appointment.

“I’m helping translate, and … helping my students understand how important the vaccines are,” she said. “At this point ... there are really high numbers of COVID.”

De Pareja, who noted the district has about 72 Spanish-speaking families, said the language barrier has made it a challenge for some families to access vaccines.

“The questions — they’re really hard,” she said of the registration process and other health-related questions that are typically asked. “These particular families don’t always have enough education, but they can receive some support.”

The location, however, does help to improve access.

“It’s easier, more convenient for the families,” she said, adding that parents don’t necessarily have to be in attendance if they’ve consented online. “And the nurses here, they are so nice. We receive a lot of support from the school nurses. They know everything.”

For more information on when and where to get vaccinated, how to get tested or what to do if a test result comes back positive for COVID-19, visit FRCOG.org/COVID.

Upcoming mobile clinics

■Jan. 26, 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. — Dexter Park Elementary School (Orange)

■Feb. 3, 1 to 6 p.m. — Mohawk Trail Regional School (Buckland)

■Feb. 11, 2 to 6 p.m. — Pioneer Valley Regional School (Northfield)

■Feb. 16, 2 to 6 p.m. — Jon Zon Community Center (Greenfield)

■Feb. 22, 2 to 6 p.m. — Franklin County Technical School (Montague)

Links to register can be found online at bit.ly/3rNd3rC.

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


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