Currently there’s only one known “mass distribution site” across the Three Rivers Health District for COVID-19 vaccinations, and that’s at the Richmond County EMS building.
Richmond County’s EMS providers have once again decided to jump into a leading public service role in the fight against the Coronavirus. And that dedication isn’t going to change as long the department can be of help, said EMS chief Mitch Paulette.
From testing to vaccinating
Richmond County’s EMS decided to do more than wait to answer service calls early in this COVID-19 saga.
At a time when the state didn’t have the capability to do Coronavirus testing, Richmond County EMS teamed up with the Three Rivers Health District and the National Guard to provide testing locally. The department went on to hold additional testing clinics and ultimately served over 1,500 people.
“When the COVID-19 vaccines were set to be released, we decided if we were already doing the testing, there’s no reason we couldn’t do the same for the vaccine so we started discussing doing vaccine clinics,” Paulette explained.
Members of his crew went through training, and the department went through the process of getting the necessary authorizations and hashing out the memorandums of understanding and agreements with Three River Health District.
Although Three Rivers Health District holds a vaccine clinic every Tuesday at the Middlesex Health Department, it has done so on an appointment-only basis.
Richmond County EMS wanted to be part of an effort to vaccinate the public on a larger scale, and started using its facility to support Three Rivers Health District in providing the vaccine in mass on Thursdays. People are served by appointment and on a drive-through basis to offer more flexibility.
Six of the Richmond County EMS providers have joined the Medical Reserve Corps, which consists of support units for public health emergencies, and four of Richmond County’s EMS can administer the vaccine.
The Richmond County mass distribution clinic is open to citizens of all 10 counties in the Three Rivers Health District, and the Moderna vaccine is being offered absolutely free.
“During its first vaccine clinic at the end of December, all 50 shots that were provided were administered, five per county,” said Paulette.
At the next clinic 291 shots were administered. And last Thursday, the number served rose to 460 in a day.
Paulette is happy to see the numbers growing, and he said his department is “willing to host mass distribution until they tell us mass distribution clinics aren’t needed.”
It’s going to take time to get the vaccines to pharmacies and widely available in doctors’ offices “so, we’ll be here for the foreseeable future,” he said.
One exception is that there will not be a vaccine clinic at Richmond County EMS on Thursday, January 21.
Urging participation as cases rise
Coronavirus cases have soared in the Three Rivers Health District. Last week, there were 634 new cases reported across the region. From December to January, the total cases in Richmond County alone jumped from 448 to 1,031.
“We’re seeing a surge-on-surge,” which was expected from the gatherings that came from celebrating several holidays in a short span of time, explained Paulette.
But a portion of the community spread is also being driven by people failing to adhere to the Coronavirus protocols. “For example, we’re seeing people unmasked in crowded restaurants,” he added.
Given the spike, Paulette is urging everyone to “please, please get vaccinated as it becomes available.”
The EMS chief said he has been vaccinated and so has much of his staff. During the vaccine clinics, people with all sorts of allergies and individuals taking a wide range of medications have been vaccinated.
“Out of about 800 people served, two have complained that the site where they were pricked was tingly, but they reported that feeling stopped by the end of the 15-minute post-injection waiting period that’s required,” said Paulette.
The numbers of people coming to get vaccinated are going up because people see others in the community did it and haven’t suffered from any extreme side effects. Paulette is hoping that “people on the fence,” will also be moved.
“It’s worth taking that stand and getting that vaccine,” he implored. “And it doesn’t cost you anything except some of your time.”
Check the Three Rivers Health District website to find out when you’re eligible to be vaccinated and to get details for scheduling an appointment if you want a set time.
Vaccination is not immunity
People need to be aware that getting vaccinated does not guarantee you can’t get it and transmit the virus.
“The purpose of the vaccine is to bring the virus more in line with the flu, in that you hopefully reduce your risk of contracting it. But if you do get the virus your symptoms are not as likely to land you in the hospital,” Paulette explained.
Furthermore, the vaccination is a two-shot process. The first shot is supposed to provide about 50 percent immunity after ten days. The second shot brings you up to about 90 percent immunity after 10 days.
“We are not saying this is a cure-all and you can run through a crowd of people with COVID and not catch it,” said Paulette.
“Let’s do all the stuff we’ve been doing now – wear your mask, wash your hands, etc. – that’s what’s going drive down the virus load we’re seeing in the community right now.”
And also “if you feel sick, even if you just don’t feel quite right, stay home until you don’t feel bad anymore. Don’t push it. Don’t take that risk,” Paulette added.
To learn more about local vaccinations, click here.