The Orange Health Department has rolled out its first round of COVID vaccination clinics which started January 28 at High Plains Community Center. As of last week, there were two clinics, one on Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. specifically for local seniors who had signed up through the town website (“Town of Orange Online VAMS Enrollment”). The main clinic is on Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and people can sign up through the federal Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS). Both programs follow the state guidelines, which so far included frontline workers, healthcare workers and those 75 of age and older.
By February 4 the local health department had vaccinated about 200 residents ages 75 and up, said Terry Waldron, the clinic coordinator. It may take a village to raise a child, as the saying goes, but it also takes a village to pull off a general vaccination campaign. Waldron was delighted at the community response to the appeal for medical volunteers and many others, all working to coordinate signups, arrivals, questionnaires, appointments, and to administer the vaccine. Local nurses and physicians have stepped up, as did police officers, CERT Team members and volunteer firefighters. A local medic enrolled in the state program to be certified to administer vaccines as well, Waldron said.
Even so, Health Department Director Dr. Amir Mohammad said they continue to call on health care professionals, including retirees, to join the effort and help out during the clinics.
In addition to the medical procedure itself, the clinic also requires clerical support, making sure people have access to and filled out the health questionnaire – as well as post-vaccination monitoring, to make sure there are no allergic reactions. People with a history of allergic reactions will be monitored for about a half hour before they leave. But before they go home, they also need to schedule a date for their booster shot. The town has been receiving the Moderna vaccine, which requires the second shot 28 days after the first, Waldron said.
The senior center has provided help for seniors who may not have access to the electronic platforms to sign up, Waldron said. In some cases, Senior Services Coordinator Dennis Marsh and his staff have mailed the questionnaire to people’s homes so they could fill them out before they come in for their appointment. In addition to the Senior Center, the Visiting Nurse Association has helped sign people up for the clinics.
By having seniors filling out the questionnaire on the town website, it helps the health department gage the interest among local seniors, Dr. Mohammad said. That way they get a clearer picture of how much vaccine they will be needing.
Assisted living and nursing home facilities were among the first group of people to be offered the vaccine. Maplewood Senior Living, for instance, got residents and staff vaccinated on January 20, in an in-house clinic that was managed by CVS.
“We were thrilled with the initial high participation levels and the overall enthusiasm and gratitude we have seen from residents and staff,” said Liz Castiline-Gannon, the executive director. They had 123 people sign up to be vaccinated.
Edward Slack was the first resident in the community to be vaccinated. It was his 82nd birthday the day of the clinic. “This is the best birthday present,” he reportedly said.
“Everything has gone really smoothly,” Castiline-Gannon said. Minor soreness and fatigue were experienced by some, but overall, they were mild side effects. “CVS managed the process for us and were professional, compassionate and provided a positive experience for our residents and staff,” she said.
Kim Bragoli, Director of Marketing, at Maplewood in Orange stated, “We are thrilled to be able to offer our residents and associates the vaccine as added protection against COVID-19. Maplewood Senior Living communities enrolled in the Federal HHS COVID-19 Vaccination Program, making us part of the first phase of priority access to the vaccine.
As the vaccination capabilities are expanding nationwide, many are looking forward to seeing popular events and celebrations return to the Fairgrounds. “There is a possibility that the carnival may happen this year,” said First Selectman Jim Zeoli at the January 13 meeting of the Board of Selectmen with cautious optimism. “And there is a possibility the [Orange Country] Fair might happen.”
But even though new infection numbers are trending in the right direction, preventive measures will stay in place for the foreseeable future, Dr. Mohammad said. “Just because you are vaccinated does not mean you cannot still be infected. Transmission is still possible,” he said, adding “all the vaccine can do is reduce the severity of the illness.”
By Bettina Thiel – Orange Town News Correspondent