Phase 1A of the COVID-19 vaccination program is underway in Marion, where the town’s officials organized a drive-through clinic on January 13 and 14 for first responders from Marion, Mattapoisett, Rochester, and Wareham at the Benjamin D. Cushing Community Center.
“The two chiefs and Lori did an amazing amount of work in a week,” said Marion Town Administrator Jay McGrail, referring to Chief of Police Richard Nighelli, Fire Chief Brian Jackvony, and Public Health Nurse Lori Desmarais. Nighelli is also Marion’s Director of Emergency Management. Jackvony had been handling the role relinquished by former Chief of Police John Garcia on an interim basis. The recently retired Garcia also appeared on the opening day of the clinic to volunteer.
“All the front-end people are Town of Marion staff; all of the police, fire, EMF staff are a combination of all four towns. All of the people doing the shots are paramedics from the four towns,” explained McGrail as the second day was nearing its conclusion. “We’ve had an unbelievable turnout of staff volunteers from our town, which really is something that makes me proud. We sent an email out (and) pretty much everyone said, ‘Sign me up for a shift.'”
The four-hour volunteer shifts came with an invitation to receive the vaccine, but the vast majority declined, according to McGrail, saying they didn’t want to “jump the line.”
The recent surge of COVID-19 cases has not relented even as the public’s push for the resumption of normal activities has gotten some measure of traction. Over the first two weeks of January, Marion had 62 positive tests out of 788 total tests (7.87 percent positivity), while Mattapoisett had 81 positives out of 887 (9.13 percent), and Rochester had 90 positives out of 701 (12.84 percent) for a Tri-Town total of 233 positive tests over the 14 days.
As of January 14, there were 58 confirmed positive cases among students and staff at Old Rochester Regional High School, including 13 in isolation.
Marion was approved by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health as a regional distribution center for the clinic and hopes that positive reports back to the state will result in a green light to administer the second round of vaccine due to the same group of first responders 28 days out. The initial two-day event required an extraordinary amount of teamwork.
“We have a fairly active Board of Health, we have a superb public health nurse, and we have town leaders who are very interested,” explained Board of Health Chairman Dr. Edward Hoffer. “We’ve been working together with the COVID response right from the beginning, very smoothly. And we figured, if the neighboring towns want to join in with us, somebody’s got to take the lead.
“The key was the three neighboring towns stepped up and were happy to contribute both manpower and getting everybody signed up,” continued Hoffer. “I mean, we wouldn’t have been able to do it as a single town. It would have been much tougher.”
Marion was allotted 400 doses of the Moderna brand vaccine, and the team estimated that 170 first responders went through the clinic on January 13 and 140-150 on January 14. To distribute the remaining available doses earmarked for Phase 1A, Marion reached out to common-care centers. Some of the senior citizens living in those facilities made appointments and were vaccinated at the Community Center. “Dr. Hoffer did a great job of managing that,” said McGrail.
Marion would need DPH approval and an accompanying fresh allotment of the vaccine to continue the program. Each stage of Phase 1 and subsequent phases theoretically culminating in the availability of vaccine for the general public sometime in April would expand the pool of registrants. Still, right now, Marion is focused on gaining approval for the second round of Phase 1A.
“We have no reason to believe we wouldn’t,” said McGrail, noting that the January 13-14 activity is logged in the PrepMod online system being used to report vaccinations to the Massachusetts Immunization Information System (MIIS).
With assistance from staff from the partnering/participating towns, Marion has already accomplished something extraordinary. “The state wanted minimum numbers; they didn’t want to be having to deal with 50, 60 total (patients), so, by getting the four towns to all work together, it worked out very nicely,” said Hoffer.
At some point, it is assumed that Marion will be too small an operation to handle larger clinics, but the town was eager to take the lead. “We wouldn’t have been able to do it without the cooperation of the leaders in the other three towns,” said Hoffer. “It gives us a good working framework to go forward when we move into the next phases.”
By Mick Colageo