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Berkshire Vaccine Collaborative Is Scaling Down Larger COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics

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Berkshire Vaccine Collaborative

The Berkshire Vaccine Collaborative is a coalition of county healthcare leaders, including Berkshire Health Systems, the county Boards of Health Association, Community Health Programs, Northern Berkshire EMS, the city of Pittsfield and more. For months, the collaborative has worked to distribute COVID-19 vaccines throughout the westernmost county in Massachusetts. This week, the collaborative said it’s beginning to scale down its larger clinics with almost half the county vaccinated. Collaborative spokesperson Jennifer Vrabel, Executive Director of Communications for Berkshire Health Systems, spoke with WAMC Josh Landes.

VRABEL: The most recent data released by the state shows that about 60% of county residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 43% have been fully vaccinated. An enormous number of those folks have been vaccinated by our large clinics in Pittsfield, North Adams amd Great Barrington. And we've been able to serve so many people by collaborating with our partners and really working together to help keep our community safe.

WAMC: You've announced this week that those larger clinics are going to begin scaling down operations. What does that mean? And what does that going to look like on the ground at those locations?

So this is really a new phase of vaccination. You know, we in the beginning, the very first phase was huge demand and very limited supply, and then more and more people have become eligible. And we have vaccinated a tremendous number of folks in the county through these large clinics, bringing folks to the places where we could vaccinate very quickly and efficiently. We could vaccinate, you know, more than 1,000 folks a day if we had the vaccine supply from the state and federal government. So where we're at now is, so many people have been vaccinated, those who haven't yet maybe have some scheduling issues or transportation issues or aren't able and haven't been able to get to those clinics at the times that they've been available. So what we're looking at now is really pivoting to be able to deliver vaccines more consistently, but on a little smaller scale. So we're looking at pop-up clinics in neighborhood locations, where it might be easier to walk to get your vaccine. And we are also, as we announced late last week, we are starting to offer vaccinations every day of the week at our testing centers. So we have three testing centers in Pittsfield, North Adams and Great Barrington, and we opened the testing center for both scheduled appointments and walk-in appointments at our Pittsfield location. We saw a tremendous number of appointments this morning at that location. So the Pittsfield center will be open seven days a week, same as our testing center hours, and you can get in there from 8:30 in the morning up until 7:30 at night by partnering with our urgent care center. So you'll be able to get a vaccine at any of those hours. And we're hoping that folks can either schedule or walk in at a time that works for them.

At State House hearings chaired by Western Mass State Senator Adam Hinds, we've heard testimony from experts at Harvard about equity issues in health data reporting and vaccine distribution reporting. At this point with the remaining population that remains unvaccinated, are those concerns being taken into account as the collaborative moves forward?

Absolutely. We are working to partner with trusted leaders in vulnerable communities to understand the, what might be hesitancy issues or transportation or other barriers to access. The collaborative has been reaching out to those leaders and trying to determine where pop-up patients might be necessary or desirable for those communities. And the mobile health unit through CHP, which is part of the collaborative, has been working with those populations as well. Reaching out to vulnerable communities and through trusted leadership, we continue to work on those populations and making sure that everybody has access.

Looking forward now, in the next couple weeks, what is the collaborative going to be doing to change up its approach as you've described previously?

So the collaborative has reached this moment where we're now pivoting from very large clinics that could serve huge numbers of people over many hours, to smaller opportunities but more consistent and having appointments and walk-in availability to have more flexible appointments. So we have opened, and today, we're, for the first time, delivering vaccines at our COVID-19 testing center on East Street in Pittsfield, so it's located right next to our urgent care center, and the testing center and urgent care are working together to vaccinate between 8:30 in the morning and 7:30 in the evening, every day of the week. So we are hoping that some of those hours one, you know, half an hour of your time during any of those days would be convenient for folks to get in. So expanding our hours of service. We are also working to open similar vaccination at our testing centers in Great Barrington and in North Adams where there would be hours with ongoing vaccine opportunities. So you could either schedule an appointment or walk in to the testing center nearest to you and get your vaccine at a time that works for you.

With Massachusetts moving its re-opening timeline up somewhat dramatically from August 1st to late June, what can you tell us about the impact of the vaccination efforts so far on a move like that? People have thrown around phrases like “herd immunity” a lot. At this point, what have we built up in Berkshire County before this earlier than expected opening date?

Well, I'm not a clinician, so I can't speak to herd immunity. But I can say that the data that we've seen suggests that vaccines are working, that fewer people are requiring hospital-level of care overall, and that infection rates seems to be declining. And we attribute that to the increasing number of vaccinations and it appears to be correlated.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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