Jay Green, left, Mayor Thomas Bernard and Amalio Jusino pose in the rainbow arch outside the parish hall on Thursday.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Northern Berkshire regional vaccination center opened on Jan. 11 to a capacity crowd; on June 17, the very last person to be inoculated walked out the door at 7:06 p.m.
In between those five to six months, the collaborative held 40 clinics and administered 24,913 doses of vaccine for the novel coronavirus.
The final clinic was celebrated with a round of applause and burst of party poppers and silly string outside St. Elizabeth's Parish Hall, where a rainbow balloon arch saying "Thank you" was set up at the entrance.
"I know you're going to see a variety of different community outreach popup clinics that still exist," Amalio Jusino, coordinator for the Northern Berkshire Emergency Planning Committee, said. "We did the brunt of the work that needed to be done to get to herd immunity. The numbers speak for themselves."
The North Berkshire clinic was one of three under the umbrella of the Berkshire Vaccine Collaborative and run by the planning committee and Northern Berkshire EMS. The latest data shows that 63 percent of those 12 and older in Berkshire County are now fully vaccinated and 74 percent have had at least one dose. More than 4 million Massachusetts residents, workers and students are now fully vaccinated.
"It was rewarding and satisfying to be able to sit at home and watch the newscasts and know you were participating in it, that the reason why there was a drop was because of what we were doing here," said Jay Green, town administrator for Adams and one of several town officials who had volunteered at the clinics. "And as a result, people could get back to normalcy, that we felt like we actually were contributing to it."
The clinic was at first limited by the amount of vaccine available. In the early months, that scarcity meant a scramble for online appointments for the two or three days it was open a week. By May, the shift was to walk-ins as the majority of the elderly and at-risk had been safely inoculated and the vaccine became more available.
At its high point, the clinic had 11 inoculation stations — up from four when it opened — administering more than a 1,000 doses. One clinic hit a high of more than 1,900 in a single day.
That wasn't the case on Thursday, when 67 doses were administered. All of them were second doses of vaccine, as had been the case for the past several weeks. Fewer than a dozen people were waiting out their 20-minute observation period, most of them children.
The parish hall that had been filled with nurses, technicians, volunteers and chairs — lots of chairs — was empty for the first time since January.
"One of the jokes is when we first started COVID at the operation center, I'm like I just need some help for a couple of weeks. And then it was something like, we should be done in a couple months," laughed Jusino. "So I'm gonna stop using two for anything."
The support that turned out for the clinics was overwhelming. Green said there was never a lack of volunteers from surrounding communities and Jusino pointed to the city workers and EMTs who assisted on the job.
"There's always stuff that goes on behind the scenes where you had to make some quick changes," said Jusino. "Obviously the walk-into clinic was a game changer. Yeah, and then the pediatrics was a game changer and the partnership with the pediatrics office was a game changer. However, anything that needed to be changed was changed immediately right on the spot.
"And our biggest struggle was inclement weather."
There were rainstorms, snowstorms and frigid weather to deal with as people were lined up outside waiting their turn for temperature checks and surveys.
"I tell you the champions that came in zero degree weather — the Adams Forest Wardens were here doing the parking all day on those freezing cold days," Jusino said, and "the North Adams PD with their detail officers."
Williams College students with the Williamstown Fire Department were "like energy bunnies" escorting people across the parking lots in freezing cold.
Jusino said the group was meeting at Freight Yard Pub that night to mark the end of the effort, sharing a bit of what he was going to tell them: "We never discriminated, we never objected, we never judged, no implicit biases existed. We as humans were just doing the right work that needed to be done for other humans, and that's what makes you all irreplaceable."
Williamstown Town Clerk Nicole Pedercini had volunteered seven or eight times and said it was a rewarding experience.
"Some people got very emotional and it was so satisfying to be able to help people and be part of the bigger scheme of things, to help get to where we are, as far as our percentage vaccinated," she said.
Green said he got to use his Lean Six Sigma training (in collaborative teamwork) in helping develop the efficient flow inside.
"It just became a constant adjustment. We improved and improved and improved," he said. "And I would say probably about, on average, the first 90 minutes of each clinic was when we had the rush, and then almost like clockwork, boom, it just flowed right out, there was no wait, no lines."
The last station is cleaned up on Thursday after 67 second doses were administered.
There was the time they inoculated a 104-year-old woman who'd survived the 1918 flu pandemic; the woman who'd driven her mother all the way from the east end of the state only run out of gas and be rescued by North Adams firefighters; when one of the volunteers took the golf cart over to Bright Ideas Brewing to rustle up candidates for leftover doses; the popular selfies with a cardboard Dr. Fauci (who had a mask put on when people complained); and when observation chairs facing the stations had to be turned because watching shots being given caused a few people to faint.
"The food establishments were just non-stop donating food," Jusino said. He's started a list but was afraid he might have left someone off. "We wanted to make sure that [volunteers were] not eating pizza and doughnuts all the time."
The vaccination work isn't over, it's just shifting to a new model as more vaccine becomes available through medical centers, pharmacies, popup clinics and outreach centers.
But what it left is a model of teamwork and trust to tackle the next crisis, said Mayor Thomas Bernard.
"I want to say thank you to this team. I want to say thank you to the community," he said, adding the numbers tell you what happened, "but they don't tell you the care, the kindness, the compassion, the dedication, the spirit that people brought to this. ... It was, you know, dozens of people bringing their best to do this work. ...
"We have the biggest gosh-darn heart in Massachusetts."
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