By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
One of the unique issues with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is that the group of people who most need it, seniors, are the same group of people who have the most trouble both registering for and physically getting it. To remedy this situation, Walpole has established their own vaccination program inside of the COA in hopes of helping seniors unable to get to the larger mass vaccination sites, and are working the phones to answer questions, help seniors understand their options, and aid them with registering to get vaccinated.
“We’re kind of the party tent here,” COA Director Kerri McManama explained. “We’re the host site, but the clinics are being organized and run by the Board of Health. My team here is providing nonstop support to residents trying to register for appointments, both here or at Gillette, that just don’t have that online capability or understanding of what’s required to do that.”
As of Tuesday, February 8, the COA vaccination clinic is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9-11:30 a.m., and again from 2-4:30 p.m., with the Tuesday clinic being open to people of any eligible category (all of phase one and the age 75-plus group), while the Thursday clinics are reserved for people that are 75-plus only, the rationale being that older people might have some reservations about being in close proximity to a younger person that’s potentially been exposed to COVID.
While there are mass vaccination sites at Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium which the COA would be more than happy to help people register for, the Walpole clinic is mainly designed for those who cannot get to one of those larger sites.
“As you know, there are these big mass sites like Fenway or Gillette that are rolling out this mass vaccination program, and then different municipalities are also trying to get access to amounts, so that they can provide local clinics that are smaller, and can give, certainly for this particular population that can’t go to a bigger site like Gillette, an opportunity to come and get vaccinated. The town of Walpole is working with the state just like every other municipality. They make a request for vaccines every week and the state, depending on the supply, grants what they can to each town.”
So far, the clinic has mainly seen seniors, since younger people that are eligible tend to be more willing to travel to Gillette or (in the case of someone like a healthcare worker) have gotten the vaccination directly at their place of employment. As for the calls, McManama noted in February alone the COA has received and responded to nearly one thousand calls about the vaccine rollout. Despite this high volume of calls, McManama said they’re still usually able to respond within 24 hours.
Currently, the Walpole clinic cannot give companions the shot (as was recently announced), because of the small number that are available to the town - although that may change depending on how many vaccines the state gives Walpole. Right now, Walpole is using the Moderna vaccine, but that’s not because Walpole specifically ordered it, or as McManama put it: "It’s a bit of a 'you get what you get and you don’t get upset' situation.”
If you’re looking for a sign that there may be light at the end of the COVID tunnel, McManama said she’s been finding a lot of people she calls inform her they either have appointments elsewhere or have already gone to Gillette. So, as more and more people get vaccinated, maybe someday soon the COA will return to its original purpose: being a place where seniors can congregate socially, rather than a vaccination center.
“When spring comes, we have a beautiful patio here,” McManama noted. “We know that things are safer outdoors, so I’m counting down until spring when I know we can be back outside doing yoga on the patio, or doing things outside as well, so there will be more options and available spaces for us to do things.”