READING – Call it Phase 1 or Phase 2 but Reading officials have a different take on the vaccine rollout. How about Phase 01867?
At Tuesday’s Select Board meeting members of the town’s Covid-19 Command team said they were ready to go with plans to vaccinate every resident. The only thing they’re missing? The vaccine. It’s a frustration being expressed across the state as the vaccine rollout continues at a snail’s pace.
“I think we have the capability, capacity, and we’ve done the planning to be able to deliver on the vaccine,” said Board of Health chair Dr. Richard Lopez. “We just need to get the vaccine.”
A limited vaccination clinic is scheduled for Friday at Reading Memorial High School. The town has done three vaccination clinics already for first responders and Friday will take care of those who still need their first shot. The following two Tuesdays the town will give second doses to the first responders who were vaccinated last month.
Friday also has another purpose according to Lopez, to test the town’s mass vaccination plan.
“If we get to that point, and hopefully we will at some time down the line, to test out the work flow and how it would be set up and how it works. It doesn’t seem likely that the state will move beyond the 75-year-old plus into others like 65-year-olders and so forth down that list of Phase 2, probably until at least two weeks, maybe even three or four weeks. So, it’s going to be awhile.”
Fire Chief Greg Burns joined the virtual meeting and said the town is ready to go.
“We are ready to give vaccines as soon as we receive it. We’ve done three vaccines already. On Friday we’re going to do a clinic to test plans for a large-scale vaccination and so we’re bringing in administrative help with that. That will let us know what we need to tweak for a larger vaccination.”
The whole process is a moving target for Burns as well as town staff trying to get hold of how the vaccine rollout will work.
“This changes continually for us and we need to adopt continuously,” said Burns. “A lot of the positions in the school department were moved into Phase 1. So, we’re going to giving them their first dose on Friday. We’ve built a structure to deal with this that makes up members of all town departments and elected and appointed boards.
“School nurses are assisting us. The Public Health nurse is assisting us. The Elder Human Services nurse is vaccinating and we also have firefighter paramedics vaccinating. We have a real team effort and we have a real large pool of trained people we can draw on. So, we have a lot of strength here. What we’re missing is access to a large supply of the vaccine on a regular basis. If that ever comes, then we can do larger vaccinations but we’ll still need these larger state venues, the hospitals and the doctor’s offices, just because of the sheer population numbers. I think we can make a significant difference if we can get the supply.”
With the start of Phase 2 on Feb. 1, the town has received numerous calls from residents searching for the vaccine.
“Whatever becomes available under Phase 2 we’ll certainly make a good notification to the community and we have taken down about 300 names of 75-plus and interested in being notified as soon as they can,” said Town Manager Bob LeLacheur. “Just because you’re on a list don’t expect that to mean anything. We’ve encouraged people to become familiar with the online tools, even if they don’t try and make an appointment at Fenway Park. When the word comes out, it will be a race.”
According to LeLacheur, there was one bit of good news for a group of residents.
“Veterans age 60 and older who are enrolled in the VA Health Care system are now able to contact the VA. The Bedford VA Hospital is giving out inoculations and making appointments. Consistently over the last few weeks I’ve heard the VA is doing a really nice job. It’s nice to see one success story anyway.”
“The VA Bedford has plenty of vaccine so give them a call,” said Kevin Bohmiller, Reading’s Community Services Director. “The shots are there, and if you’re enrolled, go get it. We’ve had a lot of people from town who have gone over to Bedford and already got them. That’s encouraging.”
Chair Mark Dockser relayed tactics of those who have been successful in getting the vaccine.
“I call it brute force. They take every avenue that’s available. They talk to their doctor’s office, they look at their health care system, they go to the state website, they register on PrepMod. They look at all of those things continuously and the people that have done that have been successful. It takes a lot of work but they’ve been successful in getting appointments.”
Board member Karen Herrick expressed concern that other communities around Reading had better access to the vaccine.
“I think people are raising the concern that, why are they able to do more mass vaccinations than we are,” said Herrick.
“There are state defined health regions,” explained LeLacheur, echoing a statement sent to residents last week. “Reading is in one with communities to the North and West. Wakefield, for example, is in another state grouping. Wakefield is probably our sister community in many ways but in this sense they’re completely unrelated to Reading. Melrose, Wakefield, Stoneham and places in that direction are just in whole different set of vaccine availability and rollout.”
Despite the differences, Lopez believes we’re all in the same boat.
“My assumption is that this rationing to communities of the vaccine is pretty equally distributed,” said Lopez.
With focus on the vaccine, not as much attention is being paid to the number of active Covid-19 cases but there’s good news there. With 145 active cases in town as of Tuesday, Lopez liked the direction the numbers were showing.
“It’s clearly going down. I think we’re in the post-surge period, like the rest of the state and the country. Hopefully it will continue in that direction.”