Vaccine rollout rules, supply frustrate county officials

  • Vials of at the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 3/23/2021 4:40:30 PM

Greenfield Emergency Management Director and Fire Chief Robert Strahan reminded people Monday afternoon that no matter who is administering COVID-19 vaccines and where in the county, it’s for the benefit of the county, not just the town where they’re being offered.

“We can’t be territorial,” Strahan said. “We’re trying to get everyone vaccinated.”

Franklin County residents have been frustrated for weeks as many ages 60 and older or with two or more medical conditions have tried to schedule an appointment for their first dose without success, but that frustration is now being felt by public health officials across the county, many of whom gathered online Monday for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments bi-weekly COVID-19 Roundtable. 

Sheila Litchfield, a registered nurse who lives in Heath, said she is extremely unhappy with West County residents having such a difficult time registering for the vaccine. 

“They have to travel to get the vaccine,” she said. “They can’t get it up here. I’d like to know what the FRCOG collaboration intends for Phase 3, when everyone is eligible. We’ve had our vaccine taken away to bring to Greenfield and that’s unacceptable.”

FRCOG, along with Greenfield and other towns throughout Franklin County, decided to form a collaboration and pool the vaccine doses each was receiving weekly so that people from across the county could get vaccinated in Greenfield, the central location, or at “spoke” clinics located in Bernardston, Shelburne Falls/Buckland, South Deerfield, Orange and Montague. But some officials feel like their residents have suffered, because they either can’t travel out of town or slots aren’t available for them.

Deerfield Selectwoman and Board of Health member Carolyn Ness said she’s upset that towns haven’t been able to depend on their emergency/disaster response teams, which train for things like providing mass vaccinations, while Charlemont Board of Health Co-Chair Doug Telling said people are waiting for the drive-thru that was promised in West County and now seems to be “taken away.”

“People don’t want to travel,” Telling said. “Some can’t travel. Some are not ‘sufficiently’ homebound to be considered for someone to come to their home with a vaccine.”

New Salem Selectboard Chair Randy Gordon said he appreciates the work everyone is doing, but would like to see New Salem, Orange and Wendell, which joined the collaboration, keep its vaccine doses each week and administer them to the residents of those towns. He said when they agreed to work with the collaborative, they didn’t realize they would be relinquishing their doses of the vaccine. 

“Lots of people find it difficult to travel to Greenfield,” he said. “We’re dealing with poverty and transportation issues. We wanted to be a part of it, but we didn’t want to be deprived.”

Strahan explained that the county is allowed by the state to set aside 25 percent of its allotted vaccine supply each week for county residents, while the rest has to be open to whomever finds a slot, and that can be people from the eastern part of the state if they get to county slots first.

“Just because vaccines are coming to Greenfield doesn’t mean that its residents are the beneficiaries,” he said. “The state requires we open up registration statewide.”

Strahan said even if a small town is allotted a certain number of vaccines each week, it couldn’t, according to the state, administer them to only its residents.

FRCOG Emergency Preparedness Program Manager Tracy Rogers shared several statistics, including that Greenfield, which has been holding a vaccine clinic at the John Zon Community Center several days a week for the past few months, is vaccinating people from all Franklin County towns and has only vaccinated 26 percent of its residents. She said so far, Franklin County has received enough doses of the vaccine to vaccinate 38 percent of its residents, but because the state requires registration to be open to all across the state, that hasn’t happened.

“The FRCOG is talking a lot with Greenfield at this point about how to move forward,” Rogers said. “We’re looking for a larger space than the John Zon Community Center.”

She said the Corporate Center on Munson Street is being considered, and a regular drive-thru clinic at Greenfield Community College is being discussed as the weather changes. She said the idea of having spoke clinics was a good one at the time, but has become inefficient.

“It costs between $600 and $1,000 to move clinics around,” Rogers said. “Lisa White is the county’s public health nurse and it’s difficult for her to move around and cover all areas.”

Rogers said everything is so “up in the air” with state requirements changing weekly and sometimes daily.

“We never know what to expect — we didn’t receive any first doses this week, for instance,” she said. “We only received enough to administer second doses.”

She said on the other hand, FRCOG has every reason to believe Franklin County will receive 1,100 doses next week. She said that could change between now and then, though. There will be announcements about second-dose clinics and a drive-thru clinic planned for Orange, but unlike drive-thru flu clinics where you just go and drive through, people will need an appointment for COVID-19 drive-thru vaccine clinics. She said she’s not sure how long into Phase 3 the collaborative will administer vaccines – that’s part of the ongoing discussions. 

“I know this is disappointing and frustrating,” FRCOG Executive Director Linda Dunlavy said. “We’re trying to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible. We need everyone to stay patient.”

Who is eligible for a vaccine?

These Phase 1 and Phase 2 groups can now get the vaccine: People age 75 and older; people age 60 to 74; people with two or more medical conditions; low income and affordable senior housing residents and staff; health care workers; long-term care residents and staff; first responders, congregate housing and care residents and staff; educators; child care workers; and school staff.

In Phase 3, those 55 years old and older, people with one medical condition and, eventually, people 16 years old and older will be able to get the vaccine. See if you are eligible at bit.ly/3f8GrE6.

Finding an appointment

Find local information at www.franklincountymavaccine.org or call 413-775-6411. For a statewide list, visit www.vaxfinder.mass.gov or call 211.

For FRCOG vaccine situation reports, visit www.frcog.org. They are updated every Friday afternoon or more often if needed. Find state vaccination reports released daily and weekly at bit.ly/3vQIuT5.

Call the FRCOG’s COVID-19 vaccine hotline at 413-774-3167, ext. 153. 

Seniors call LifePath at 413-829-9285 for help scheduling an appointment, arranging transportation or if they are homebound and need someone to come to them with a vaccine when that service is available.

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

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