With the vaccination of hospital and long-term care facility workers against COVID-19 already underway in Berkshire County, first responders are next in line. Berkshire Regional Planning Commission Public Health Program Manager Laura Kittross – who also serves as director of the Berkshire County Boards of Health Association and the Berkshire Public Health Alliance — says the Moderna vaccine will be administered to county fire, police and EMS staffers across the county starting on Monday, January 11th. Kittross spoke with WAMC.
KITTROSS: It will be done in several large vaccination clinics. We expect police, fire and EMS to come to the clinics. They will be held in Great Barrington, Pittsfield, and in North Adams on alternating days, and there will be a registration process. We've already reached out to all the fire, police and EMS in the county and they have indicated who within their departments are interested in receiving the vaccine at this time. And we hope to start a pre-registration process in the next couple of days so that, you know, we can run the clinics as efficiently and effectively as possible.
WAMC: Do you have a sense of how many people will be included in this round of vaccinations?
It’s pretty broad estimates at this point, but I expect it to be somewhere between 1,000 and 1,200.
Now, there have been reports across the country of difficulty in managing the distribution of the vaccine. At this point, have you seen any complications or wrinkles in the process here in Western Massachusetts?
I don't. You know, I think we've got a really good group of people working on this. DPH has provided vaccine and promise more so that we have enough for all of our first responders. We've got the ability to store vaccine, we've got plenty of people who are willing and able to work the clinics and who are used to doing mass flu vaccination clinics and so on. It's a very defined population. So at least for this first responder group, I don't expect any big complications. And I think it's an excellent opportunity for us to start learning what works and what doesn't work as we head into the larger, potentially more messy public clinics.
How far away do you think a public clinic would be at this point in Berkshire County?
You know, public has different definitions, depending on who we're talking about. Once we close out phase one, phase two is beginning. Right now the priority group is those over 75 and those with two or more preexisting conditions that put them at high risk for severe COVID disease. Those priority groups continuously change, and I really recommend that people continue to look at the Mass DPH website. There's a page called ‘When Can I Expect To Get The COVID Vaccine’ or something like that that is regularly updated. So if we're talking about those groups, I think we're looking at February probably. If we're talking about really the general public people who aren't essential workers, people who aren't over the age of 65, people who don't have preexisting health conditions, we're probably talking about much later in the spring. At the very earliest April. But I do expect for a vaccine to be rolling out, from before Christmas when it started, through May or June.
There have also been reports during the vaccination rollout of people choosing to not take the vaccine or not trusting the vaccine. Do you have a protocol in place for how public health professionals address concerns like that among folks who are being offered the vaccine?
I feel very confident that the vaccine is safer than getting COVID, even for those of us who are not in a high risk group. We don't know who will get severe COVID disease or who will suffer long lasting effects from COVID disease. We hear reports of heart problems and blood clots and long lasting effects from having COVID. I know there's some concern that it was rushed in some way. The fact is that the technology that's being used in the COVID vaccine has been tested for many, many years. And really, it's kind of amazing what you can do when you have all the resources you need at hand and all the personnel you have, that- A lot of the delay in making vaccines, from what I understand I am no vaccine manufacturer or expert by any stretch of the imagination, but from what I've read, it's often raising money and getting personnel and building that infrastructure to do the research. Because that wasn't a barrier for this vaccine, it was able to be created much more quickly. The other piece of information I would say to people is you know, at this point, millions of people, including thousands here in Berkshire County, have been vaccinated and have been vaccinated safely and are having no ill effects from it. You know, people will occasionally have slight flu like symptoms for a day or two, that's a sign that your immune system is working and mounting a defense. So that's actually a good sign to have those effects. But we are not seeing anything, for the most part, outside the normal, what you would expect to see as normal side effects.
What kind of advice or guidance are folks receiving the vaccine being given about how to take precautions or measures even after getting the vaccination?
So until everyone is vaccinated, we know that we're going to have to continue to social distance, we're going to have to continue to wear masks. You know, probably the whole washing your hands and that, kind of, not touching your face is good advice forever in terms of protecting against infectious diseases like flu and cold. But really for those who are lucky enough to be in the initial priority groups for getting the vaccine, I would just ask them to continue to help protect the rest of us until we get our vaccine. So it's going to be a while before we can really give up all of our social distancing travel like we used to, not have to wear masks. But the really great exciting news is that end is in sight, even if it's not quite yet.