By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
While many towns are developing their own small vaccination clinics for residents, Needham uniquely has access to the types of freezers that allow them to store either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. While this makes things a bit more difficult for those planning the logistics of the program (the second shot for the Pfizer vaccine comes three weeks after the first, the second shot of the Moderna vaccine comes four weeks after the first), it has given the state some flexibility in giving the town vaccines. Combined with the fact that Needham’s clinic (officially known as Needham: Public Health Clinic and located at the Center at the Heights) is open to people from any town, this means the state has been very willing to supply Needham.
“I think what’s helped us get a good amount of vaccine is the fact that we’re an open site," Needham Director of Public Health Timothy McDonald explained. "We don’t say we’re only going to vaccinate Needham people. Needham is helping Dover and Medfield, for example; we did their first responders because their health departments are a little bit smaller. So, we helped Dover and Medfield, but we’re open to anybody, so sometimes a town will say only people from their town can come, but the DPH likes the fact that we’re open to everyone in the region.” McDonald later reiterated that he’s seen patients from as far as Brockton, Bourne and Brookline.
The clinics are a tremendous amount of work on a variety of levels. Firstly, the clinics end up needing about thirty staff members, including a police detail (it should be noted everyone working at the clinic has been vaccinated). There’s also an issue of timing. Because switching polling stations around is a voter disenfranchisement technique, special care needs to be placed on not disrupting town elections (which are often also held at the Center at the Heights) when planning both the dates of the first and second shots.
As for the process itself, everyone who comes to Needham has to register online through the state website. At the specified time, they enter the parking lot and are directed to a spot. If there are any mobility challenges, the patients are directed to spots closest to the handicapped-accessible ramps (of which the DPW has added two). A nurse logs a patient in and they’re directed to a waiting area. There’s a monitor in the room (usually, it’s a retired nurse) and patients have a fifteen or thirty minute post-shot waiting period, depending on whether they've ever had a history of anaphylaxis or severe allergic reaction to vaccines, eggs, shellfish, and the like. During the fifteen minutes of waiting, patients are registered for the second clinic. A second clinic is not publicized, since everyone that comes to the first clinic is scheduled for the second dose.
So far, McDonald has said that Needham has not had any bad reactions to the shot and has not wasted any of the shots. But it needs to be expressed very succinctly that due to the nature of how the vaccines both work and are stored, if you get the first shot, you have to be there for the second at the scheduled time. If you cannot commit to the second shot, do not show up to the first.
But while it’s all well and good to have a clinic, it’s not much use if the people who need to get the vaccine the most can’t get there, or can’t figure out how to register to get it. To remedy that issue, Needham has created a call log for anyone who needs help registering, either because they’re not great with computers or don’t have one, so they can do it over the phone.
“They call us, they call town hall, they call public health, and we have a form we fill out that puts them into the queue for us to call back and register them for a vaccine, or to call and give them information," Aicha Kelley explained. "Public Health has also set up an email and a phone number you can call for vaccine information. A lot of the calls we get are from people overwhelmed by going on the website, which can be tricky. They’re nervous about doing it incorrectly and missing their appointment. If you’re 94 and you’re not used to using a computer and the website asks you to upload a photograph of your medical card, you probably don’t know how to do that and it’s overwhelming, so we’re trying to be a resource for seniors."
But if you can’t get to Needham’s clinic, through March 31, the town is also offering seniors free taxi rides to one of the larger vaccination sites through the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC).
“We’re urging people to please go to the grand-scale vaccine sites," said Kelley. "Everyone I know that has gone to Gillette or Fenway has said it’s such an easy system and it’s so well coordinated, that it’s wheelchair accessible, that they have volunteers to answer questions. If they can’t get an appointment with us, I would say there’s a bunch of appointments at Gillette. The senior center also offers free taxi rides, through March 31, so if someone is uncomfortable driving to Gillette, we can get you there in a cab with a grant from MAPC.”