So far, Wilton has been very successful with the town-sponsored COVID-19 vaccine clinics it has run in conjunction with Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County (VNHFC).
But now town officials are worried that ongoing delays and shortages at the state and national level will bog things down, and they’re already seeing an impact on how quickly residents can get either first or second doses.
During Tuesday evening’s Board of Selectmen meeting, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said the town has heard from residents who are having trouble booking appointments for their second doses due to limited or no availability.
That’s due, in part, to an increase in the number of agencies providing vaccines but no equal increase in the number of vaccine doses being sent by the federal government.
“That means if everybody’s getting them, everybody’s going to get less, but the focus is on the hospitals and the bigger distribution methods,” Vanderslice added.
Case in point, Wilton’s Health Department, along with VNHFC, is holding a vaccine clinic on Thursday for Wilton residents aged 75 and up only. For this age group only, the town is offering concierge appointment booking assistance for those that require it. However, the clinic is already nearly full as the town received a shipment of 100 doses this week–only half of what it has received in past weeks.
(For Thursday’s clinic, residents can still reach out to Wilton’s Director of Social Services Sarah Heathvia email or by calling 203.834.6238 to provide name, address, phone number and date of birth. Residents are asked to email if they are comfortable, rather than calling, to allow the department to devote the necessary time to call-only residents, who generally need more assistance. They are also asked to reach out either by email or calling–not both.)
As a result, the CT Department of Public Health is “doing a reset,” announcing measures to address the delays and help the state reach the governor’s goal of getting the 75-and-older population vaccinated in the next three weeks–especially with their second doses.
Agencies administering vaccines using the CDC’s Vaccine Appointment Management System (VAMS) for appointment scheduling were asked not to publish any clinics more than 21 days or 28 days in advance depending on the availability of the vaccines. “I think that’s kind of a message to everyone about the uncertainty of what, how many vaccines are coming in after that,” Vanderslice said.
A new feature will be rolled out in VAMS that automatically protects 10% of all appointment slots for second doses only.
In addition, CT DPH has better defined its principles for vaccine allocations:
Equitable allocation across geographies: ensuring each region receives vaccine in line with its population
Rapid access: ensuring providers only receive as much vaccine as they can confidently administer in a week.
Diverse channels: a considerable amount of Connecticut’s allocation will flow through hospital systems and mass vaccination sites, but DPH also wants to support other channels (e.g., pharmacies, local health departments, Federally Qualified Health Centers, and clinics) to administer vaccines
Local coordination: between local health districts and providers within the local health district
Thursday’s clinic is the latest in the town’s vaccination efforts. The most recent past clinic was set up at Wilton High School last Saturday, Jan. 23, when vaccines were administered to 180 people–almost all of whom were Wilton residents.
Vanderslice gave significant credit for the clinic’s success to town employees’ outreach efforts to make sure Wilton seniors were notified and participating.
“There was great coordination between [town employees] Sarah Gioffre and Patricia Brandt and Sarah Heath… to reach out to residents aged 75-and-up throughout the day for any open slot to ensure every vaccine is used and given to the right people,” Vanderslice explained.
There are two types of clinics the town can sponsor: open clinics, for which appointments are booked on VAMS and are available to anybody who resides or works in the state and qualifies under Phase 1.a. and is 75 or older; or closed clinics, like what the town held on Saturday, which requires permission from and significant coordination with the state.
“With a closed clinic, you’re making a commitment that you are going to provide every one of those individuals with their second dose. So you have to manage this carefully. What we hope to do is a combination of both–that way, we’re able to do the 75-and-up with the closed clinics and the public open clinics, we’ll allow the second dose folks to come in. And we’ll move forward that way,” Vanderslice explained, adding that Thursday will be a closed clinic because of the 100-dose limit.
What’s also critical is that the town must make sure that every spot is filled.
“We always have a waitlist because we don’t want to ever–once you open that vial of 10, you have to use it. We’re going to use it, but we want it in the arms of somebody 75 and up,” Vanderslice added.
Response from residents has been highly positive.
Wilton resident Don Sauvigne copied GMW on a letter he sent to officials thanking them for the clinic.
“Hats off to all. Vaccine process ran very smoothly, from CERT assisting in parking thru check-in, and the injection—just the entire process. The automatic enrollment scheduling a month out—same place and time is fabulous. You’ve done this through a very complex VAMS system and the national vaccine distribution that has had its challenges, not to speak of the demands dealing with local infectious cases,” he wrote, adding, “Please pass on my gratitude and compliments to all the many who are involved.”
Wilton residents Jan and Dave Hapke also wrote to Vanderslice and GMW to thank the town employees, volunteers and VNHFC for the clinic, calling it “a prime example of why we love Wilton.”
“The objective of making vaccinations available to all Wiltonians that currently qualify is a wonderful objective. The team that arranged and managed this clinic make us happy and proud to be Wilton citizens.
“Wilton Town employees went well beyond their normal job positions to make this happen. Our appointments were scheduled by a town employee working well beyond her normal working hours, and she made sure we had her cell phone number to call if we ever had any questions. At the event, we saw town employees working that Saturday who would during the week be working in administrative positions at town hall or in the Department of Public Works.
“Fairfield County Visiting Nurse and Hospice, with their long history in Wilton, were there in force with nurses that were efficient and very caring for those they were interacting with. Wilton CERT was there to help traffic flow and to assure all went well. I am sure there were also many others working to make this event happen; all are appreciated.”
Private Clinics at the area assisted living facilities have continued too.
Seniors and staff at Sunrise of Wilton received vaccinations during the facility’s first COVID-19 vaccine clinic called “Crush COVID” last Thursday, Jan. 21. The community enjoyed decorations, music, a “Celebration Observation Area” with fun treats like Orange Crush and specialty cupcakes, and a community photo booth with Sunrise of Wilton “Paparazzi.”
Vaccines were administered by CVS Health onsite at Sunrise of Wilton on Danbury Road.
A recent survey of more than 8,000 Sunrise residents and families across the U.S. revealed that 92% of respondents will probably or definitely receive the vaccine for themselves or their loved one.