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Berkshires Gets Limited Vaccine Doses; Named 'High-Efficiency Collaborative'

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — COVID-19 vaccine shipments expected early last week were delayed because of inclement weather and were smaller than expected, leaving Berkshire County shorthanded. And a "very limited" amount of vaccines was available for appointment first-dose slots on Wednesday.  
"This week, Massachusetts received 139,000 doses," Mayor Linda Tyer said to the City Council on Tuesday. "That's it, we have a million potential new residents who are eligible, but for the week we received 139,000 doses."
Public Health Program Manager Laura Kittross said there is limited access everywhere and doesn't expect this to be an ongoing issue.  She hopes to see additional vaccine allocations later this week and is "certainly hopeful for next week."
On Thursday, there were very limited first-dose clinic at Berkshire Community College from 2 to 5 with 300 appointments available to eligible individuals. The North Adams and Great Barrington vaccination sites will also hold first-dose clinics on Thursday, offering 250 doses each. All of those were gone by late afternoon on Wednesday.
About 50,000 appointments will be available on Thursday morning through the state website, which Gov. Charlie Baker said should be working better. The updated site crashed last week. 
Baker on Wednesday offered some hope that doses will begin arriving in greater numbers for the mass and regional vaccination sites set up across the commonwealth. 
"The news out of Washington on some of this stuff right now is actually encouraging. I hesitate to draw too many conclusions about it because, honestly, we've been disappointed before by some of the things people told us were going to happen and then what ultimately happened with respect to vaccine production and distribution," he said at the newly opened mass vaccination site in Natick. "But on the same day to have Johnson and Johnson's vaccine deemed safe and effective by by the FDA and to have Moderna and Pfizer say they would double their vaccine production in March over the level of vaccine production they did in February is a really positive development in so many ways.
"This could be a really big moment if in fact what folks are saying actually plays out over the course of the next 30 to 45 days."
The state has been receiving about 130,000 or so first doses a week for the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccine. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, while not as effective as the first two, is a single dose and offers greater portability. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized its emergency use on Wednesday.  
"As far as vaccine allocation this week to the public clinics, it's important to remember that the state is constantly juggling the needs of the entire commonwealth," Kittross wrote in an email. "Vaccine shipments were late last week due to the weather in the Midwest/South so that messed everything up. We got a very large allocation of Pfizer second doses this week for people who received their first doses three weeks ago, and it's possible that affected our ability to get an additional larger allocation this week for first doses. Or they simply needed the vaccine elsewhere this week, possibly in an area that was underserved to date."
The Berkshire County Boards of Health Association, the umbrella group for vaccine distribution to the three regional Berkshire sites, was named on Wednesday as one of 11 "high-efficiency" collaboratives across the state in an effort to streamline vaccine distribution. Last week, the governor halted doses to smaller municipal areas saying 95 percent of Bay State residents now live within 45 minutes of a mass or regional vaccination site. 
The collaboratives have to have capacity for a minimum of 750 people a day, five days a week, subject to vaccine availability, among several other criteria. 
Tyer reported that the BCC clinic administrated 960 vaccines last Thursday and 1,150 last Saturday.  She noted that Tuesday and Saturday clinics are for second doses.
"Regarding the Massachusetts data, I know you're hearing this and I'm hearing it pretty frequently this sense of frustration that many are having about the Massachusetts vaccine rollout," she said. "It has certainly been difficult and confusing, and it's a constant work in progress. So state officials are continuing to work through these difficulties and the dominant obstacle to all of this is the constraint that we have on vaccine supply."
At the clinic occurring earlier on Tuesday day, around 490-second doses were administered and on Saturday, the BCC clinic will administrate 2,100-second doses over a nine-hour period, Tyer said.
Pittsfield's 14-day case rate is currently at 7.64 with a positivity rate of 1.02.  The current positive case count is 248 with two new cases occurring on Tuesday.
The city is averaging at 316 COVID-19 tests per day, which is a number that has been reportedly decreasing.  According to Center for Disease Control data, Massachusetts is currently number one for total first doses administrated per capita.
"The tests per day are high, but they are going down and have been going down since mid-January," Tyer said. "And this downward trend in tests and the low positivity rate means that our cases are going down dramatically since January."
She was pleased to inform the council that Pittsfield hasn't seen any COVID-19 deaths in the last 25 days.
Kittross explained that the only vaccination sites that Berkshire County controls are the three located in North, Central, and Southern Berkshire County.
"Vaccinations at pharmacies and grocery stores are not under local control in any way," she wrote. "Nor are we aware of what vaccine they receive or how many they vaccinate. Anyone with issues related to the pharmacies will need to contact them directly. I have heard sporadic complaints, but nothing systemic; overall people seem positive. However, there is limited supply everywhere."
So far, more than 1 million residents have received their first dose of the vaccine. 

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Pittsfield Health Board to Hold Cell-Tower Forum With Mass DPH

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

The Board of Health says it doesn't have the expertise to investigate on its own. It voted to support a legislative bill that would create a commission to look into cell radiation and to partner with a state program on a public forum.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Local health officials are supporting the investigation of concerns related to a 115-foot Verizon cell tower at 877 South St. in a two-part plan.  

On Monday, the Board of Health unanimously voted to support a bill filed by state Sen. Julian Cyr of Truro — Senate Docket 2418 — that calls for a special commission to research the impact of electromagnetic (EMR) and radio frequency (RFR) radiation's health effects and voted to communicate with the Berkshire delegation, the Massachusetts Department of Health, and the governor's office on the importance of moving it forward.
The board also voted unanimously to have a panel presentation "as soon as possible" with the Mass DPH's Environmental Toxicology Program for the purpose of public education on the issue of electromagnetic radiation. 
"We've now developed an action plan, we're here tonight to move this forward to give clear instructions on what residents can do," Director of Public Health Gina Armstrong said. "I think if we, if I, had received communications from specific individuals prior to this, those referrals probably would have been made sooner. We haven't received specific communications from other residents in that area, but what we'd like to do tonight is really encourage people with those specific health conditions that they believe are related to EMF exposure to please use those resources at Mass DPH."
This is the first time the board has taken up the issue and some who had planned to speak were upset that the board only allowed Pittsfield residents to speak during the open portion of the meting.
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