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Vaccines relief for some, frustration for others

  • Big Y Pharmacy Manager Lee Kimball administers a COVID-19 vaccination to Phil Crafts of Leverett at the Big Y Pharmacy site in the old mattress store next to the supermarket in Greenfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 2/19/2021 4:13:45 PM

Dozens of seniors throughout the county expressed frustration and anger this week as COVID-19 vaccination slots opened up to people 65 years old and older, and as many of them tried to register, they found the state website where people sign up for all vaccine locations had crashed.

The Greenfield Recorder reporter received more than a dozen calls Thursday from some of those seniors who said they’d been trying to register for the vaccine for days, even before the 65-plus announcement on Wednesday, and could not get an appointment.

While Greenfield, which is administering the vaccine at the John Zon Community Center on Pleasant Street, has said things are running smoothly there, it is only allotted so many vaccines each week and therefore can only offer that many appointments, leaving some to wonder where or when they will get theirs.

Baystate Health has reported it has administered 9,290 first doses and 8,778 second doses to date. The hospital system has 588 scheduled appointments for first doses over the next 26 days and 10,373 appointments for second doses during the same time. Those numbers include people from Franklin County, but the numbers are not broken down by territory.

Gov. Charlie Baker has made numerous announcements about the vaccine recently, including opening up the vaccine to caregivers who accompany people 75 years old and older (called the Buddies Program), for which Baker has come under fire. One complaint has been that people 75 years old and older haven’t been able to get their vaccine yet, so some wonder what will happen as the state adds more people to the eligible list before the older seniors get theirs.

Elder advocate Al Norman, of Greenfield, said that “ironically, an elder could contract the COVID virus from a ‘companion’ driver who is asymptomatic on the way to traveling to get the COVID vaccine.”

The governor eventually reported that his administration had “heard some pretty disturbing reports of some people trying to take advantage of this program already. You should only reach out to someone you know and trust to bring you as your companion. Don’t take calls or other offers from people you don’t know well or trust, and never share your personal information with anyone. If you’re contacted by someone soliciting to take you to a site, please report it to the authorities,” Baker said.

Norman said that’s not the only issue with vaccines, though.

“In my attempts recently to help a number of my 75-plus-age friends get vaccine appointments, I saw firsthand the frustration and anger they felt at being unable to find out where the vaccine was available, much less get a real appointment,” Norman said. “COVID testing and COVID vaccinations have been a true health care ordeal for many seniors, and the process itself is another example of a ‘sick’ and dysfunctional health care system.”

He said seniors have complained that the state’s reliance on enrollment websites — like the one that crashed this week, leaving thousands of seniors confused and upset — is inappropriate for them, especially for those who don’t have computers or someone to help them.

Many local seniors have said appointments are hard to get in many cases and even if they get to the scheduling page, they find there are no appointments available or that vaccine supplies are limited or non-existent, as Norman said. He said the program also does nothing for seniors and people with disabilities who are wheelchair-bound or cannot be easily moved into a vehicle.

“What is still lacking is a mobile vaccine team that makes home visits, rather than forces seniors to come to them,” Norman said. “In Massachusetts, the vaccine rollout has been more of a shot in the dark than a shot in the arm.”

According to the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG), which updates its website and information about the vaccine, testing and other COVID-19-related matters every week, the state is in the second of three vaccination phases and is focusing on priority populations, which include people 65 years old and older and people 16 years old and older who have two serious health conditions. Caregivers may be eligible if they schedule their appointment at the same time as the person they are accompanying.

“More people will become eligible soon,” FRCOG Director of Community Services Phoebe Walker said, adding that everyone hopes the amount of vaccines received will increase as well.

Where to get vaccinated

FRCOG’s South Deerfield vaccination clinic, which was supposed to be open on Thursday and Friday, has been rescheduled due to severe weather in other parts of the country, resulting in delays of vaccine shipments. The clinic has been moved to next week on the same days. The times, 9:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., and the location, Tree House Brewing, 1 Community Place in South Deerfield, are the same.

According to a notice from FRCOG, people who already registered have had their appointments moved to the new dates, but have retained the same appointment time for which they signed up.

The Buckland clinic will open Wednesday, Feb. 24, and Saturday, Feb. 27, both days from noon to 5:30 p.m. at Mohawk Trail Regional School. Appointments cannot be scheduled until organizers know how many doses will be available.

There are several other places to schedule a vaccine appointment, including Greenfield’s John Zon Community Center, as well as larger facilities, including the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Eastfield Mall in Springfield. Pharmacies like CVS and Big Y Supermarket’s pharmacy in Greenfield are also accepting appointments through their websites.

Elms College and Big Y have formed a partnership to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to eligible residents in Western Massachusetts. The clinic is at 237 Mohawk Trail (Route 2) in the Big Y Plaza in a space formerly occupied by Mattress Firm.

“This collaboration with Big Y is a wonderful opportunity for the students and faculty of our School of Nursing to contribute to this important community service,” Elms Dean of the School of Nursing Kathleen B. Scoble said. “Our students are receiving a unique and impactful learning experience that will better prepare them as nurses. We have enjoyed working with the Big Y leadership who clearly value the communities they serve by bringing the much-needed COVID-19 vaccination to area residents.”

Big Y Pharmacy Director Steve Nordstrom said, “Serving our communities is important to Big Y and the partnership with the Elms College School of Nursing has bolstered our capabilities to deliver this essential health care service. By leveraging our strengths, we are able to meet the critical need to vaccinate as many members of our communities as possible.”

More than 200 Elms College nursing students — sophomores, juniors and seniors — are participating in the joint effort with Big Y to administer and schedule COVID-19 vaccinations for recipients identified in Phase 2 of the state’s vaccination program. Some nursing students administer the vaccine, while others help monitor people after their shots. Some are helping schedule second doses.

For more information or to register for a vaccine at upcoming Big Y clinics, visit bit.ly/37LV1Nl.

Franklin County doctors’ offices and health care centers are scheduling appointments for their eligible patients as vaccines become available. Doctors will call patients to schedule them; patients are asked not to call their doctors about vaccinations.

In addition to FRCOG’s clinics in South Deerfield and Buckland, there will soon be clinics in Montague and Bernardston. Those clinics will rotate between the towns, and times, dates, locations and availability of appointments and registration links will be posted every Friday evening at maimmunizations.org or on the state’s website at bit.ly/2Nor12X.

Situation reports, including key updates for the Franklin County vaccination effort, are released each Friday afternoon at frcog.org. The county has agreed to a unified vaccination plan coordinated by FRCOG. The agency also provides a vaccine hotline at 413-774-3167, ext. 153.

Other resources

■For help scheduling an appointment, arranging transportation or if you are a homebound person, call LifePath at 413-829-9285.

■For help scheduling an appointment at a state-run vaccination site, call 211.

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

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