Towns Helping Seniors Get VaccinatedMar 01, 2021 02:22PM ● By Grace Allen
Norfolk and Wrentham are taking different approaches to the COVID vaccine rollout for senior citizens. Like other communities in Massachusetts, both towns have had to scramble to figure out how to best assist their most vulnerable citizens during this phase of the pandemic.
On February 11, Norfolk announced it would not hold a vaccine clinic for its oldest citizens, citing numerous challenges and logistical difficulties. After a series of meetings to discuss the feasibility of distributing vaccines in town, town officials decided their best bet would be to help seniors schedule appointments at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro and assist in finding transportation for those needing it. CIC Health, a Cambridge-based health tech company, is operating the vaccination site at Gillette.
Town Administrator Blythe Robinson said the state has placed a higher priority on sites like Gillette instead of municipal vaccine clinics.
“The state is not likely to provide vaccines to communities in close proximity to sites like Gillette,” she explained. “Further, the state will be more likely to provide vaccines to towns that regionalize and work together to have a clinic, but not towns near the larger sites the state has already established.”
In addition to the lack of shots, other issues hampering towns from holding clinics include special storage and handling procedures for the vaccines, an observation period to watch for possible reactions, and record-keeping.
Still, Wrentham has decided to hold small clinics twice a week—Mondays and Wednesdays for now--at the public safety building in town. Unlike Norfolk, Wrentham has two full-time public health nurses and has beenable to vaccinate its first responders on-site. Seniors 75 and older have also started receiving vaccines at the town-held clinics.
“The senior center has been wonderful in assisting our older residents who do not have computer access with registration for our clinics,” said Public Health Nurse Jeanine Murphy.
According to Janet Angelico, the director of Wrentham’s senior center, at press time the center had registered over 40 seniors for vaccine appointments at the town-held clinics.
Nurse Murphy said Wrentham hopes to continue the clinics for all age groups throughout the vaccine rollout but also notes the state may limit the number of vaccines the town receives because of its location near Gillette.
Norfolk’s senior center is also helping eligible residents sign up for vaccines. Although the chaos of the initial rollout has subsided, online signup for the vaccine can still be difficult, said Council on Aging Director Sherry Norman. The state seems to change the process weekly, and the senior center staff has learned to pivot to keep up.
According to Norman, many eligible seniors in town—or their children-- have either called for assistance or have dropped in for help in scheduling vaccine appointments. The senior center has wheelchairs and walkers to lend out if residents worry about navigating the walk to the building in Patriot Place where the vaccine clinic is held, but Norman notes Gillette has some wheelchairs available and CIC Health staff are on hand to assist guests with mobility issues.
Norman says she maintains a list of trusted volunteers available to drive seniors in need of transportation, but so far it seems most are driving themselves or going with family and friends. Familiarity with the Patriot Place complex, good signage, and easy parking with curbside drop-off have helped.
Norman also points out that some residents have used GATRA GO to get to the stadium. GATRA GO is an on-demand, same day public transit service available to eligible Norfolk and Wrentham residents. Cost is $2 each way.
“We have a lot of very independent 80-somethings in town,” said Norman, who noted the next eligible group (65-74) may have different needs.
Feedback from seniors after securing an appointment and getting a shot has been positive, said Norman. One Norfolk couple, Richard and Francine McCarthy, reported to Norman that after little success trying to set up appointments themselves, they emailed town officials and immediately received assistance in setting up tandem appointments.
Both Norfolk and Wrentham have sizeable senior populations. Per the last census, Norfolk has 582 people over 75 and 1,287 between the ages of 65 and 74. Wrentham has approximately 878 people over the age of 75 and 1,446 between the ages of 65 and 74. Getting most of those folks vaccinated with or without the state’s support is a herculean effort requiring ingenuity, persistence, and cooperation between town officials.
“We will get through it,” said Norman. “If you look back, who would have thought we’d be in vaccination mode just one year later? That’s remarkable and something we should be excited about.”
Norfolk seniors requiring assistance in making an appointment for the COVID vaccine or getting a ride to Gillette should contact the following: the Council on Aging at 508-528-4430 or email [email protected]; the Board of Health at 508-528-7747 or email [email protected]; or the Town Administrator’s Office at 508-440-2855 or email [email protected]
Wrentham seniors can contact Janet Angelico, the senior center’s director, at 508-384-5425 or email [email protected] Whenever the public health nurses have sufficient vaccines for a clinic, the information will be posted on www.wrentham.ma.us and a town alert notification will be sent out. Residents are urged to sign up for community alerts on the town’s website. Vaccine clinics at the public safety building will also be posted on maimmunizations.org.