Local officials and department heads attend Thursday's vaccine drill to see how it will work.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — North Berkshire first-responders will be receiving the COVID-19 vaccine beginning Monday at St. Elizabeth's Parish Center.
"Here we've been able to set it up with a good flow," said Amalio Jusino last week. "Everybody's separated by 6-foot distancing cones and screening and registration in the little front part, and then you walk into the actual vaccine clinic."
The Moderna vaccine is being distributed through the Berkshire County Boards of Health Association but the clinic is being managed by Northern Berkshire EMS and the Northern Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee.
"We wrote our plan, met their guidelines," said Jusino, a member of the emergency planning committee. "It's all our staff, through the NBREPC and through the COVID-19 Operation Center."
The clinic was prepared on Thursday night with representatives from participating communities and Mayor Thomas Bernard on hand to go over the plans and run a practice drill so town officials and department chiefs could communicate with their members what to expect.
The operations center had been set up last March upon Gov. Charlie Baker's declaration of emergency regarding the novel coronavirus. The center had been prepped for possible use as a drive-through testing center but never used as such.
A drive-through vaccination protocol would be too cumbersome, said Jusino, because of the registration steps and the need for the each individual to be observed for at least 20 minutes afterward.
There have been a few scattered reports of adverse reactions but the main complaint has been arms being sore at the site of the inoculation. Jusino said there will be an ambulance crew on hand just to be safe and about 25-30 staff to work the clinic.
He'd been queried about his thoughts on the vaccine by a first-responder and said he had responded he was definitely getting it even though he doesn't normally get the flu shot.
"I'll wait for everybody else but I'm definitely getting it because the reality is, this is different ... and I want to bring some normalcy back," he said.
The clinic is open to any first-responder in the communities of Adams, Cheshire, Clarksburg, Florida, Hancock, New Ashford, North Adams and Savoy. Firefighters, police and emergency medical technicians in those towns can register, as can first-responders who may work in those communities.
Registration is made online through the state website.
"People are very happy with the registration process," said Jusino. "That's good, it takes the weight off of us because we didn't know how we were going to call each department and ask who you're going to send. ... It just speeds up the flow in here. We're looking at the same screen, they show an ID, boom, there's their name."
The Moderna vaccine requires two shots for full coverage so those getting the first shot will leave with an appointment for the second. The clinic will run Monday and Friday from 2 to 7.
"I think we'll get all the first-responders next week with one mop-up update being held centrally in the county," Jusino said.
Vaccinations have been occurring since mid-December with health-care and long-term care facilities the first in line; first-responders are also part of this Phase One rollout along with home-based health-care workers and health-care workers who are not in direct contact with potential COVID-19 exposure. The second phase will include those 75 and older, educational and other essential workers, then those 65 and older and people with one co-morbidity. Access for the general public is not expected until April.
The arrival of the vaccine is a huge relief, he said. "I got an email today from a firefighter in another town and he thanked me and the group that we have and the city for getting this to where it is today, and he was able to register and he was just so very happy.
"I literally was like, choked up. ... I don't think everyone realizes how monumental this is after a year of this."
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