Natick Public Health Director Jim White would rather his team be doling out vaccines to locals, but he acknowledges that LabCorp’s mass vaccination site setup at Natick Mall is well done.
Speaking during this week’s Natick Board of Health meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 23, White and Board members repeated their frustration at the Health Department largely being cut out of the state’s first dose vaccination plans (the local health team will still give second doses to those who got first doses in town, will be administering the vaccine to at least some 375 Natick Housing Authority property resident next week, and most likely homebound residents). Though White said he understands the Commonwealth’s Department of Public Health only has so much vaccine supply and has decided that distributing it mainly through mass vaccination sites like the one at Natick Mall, as well as via pharmacies, is its most efficient approach.
He’s still holding out hope that local health departments will get brought back into the fold if supplies increase nationally.
Town officials had a walkthrough last week at the newly Natick Mall mass vaccination site, which is ramping up from 100 doses a day to thousands a day seven days a week. The site is well thought out, and the operator did take advice from the town’s police, fire, building, and health officials to make some tweaks, White said. The 80,000 sq. ft. facility has 36 vaccination stations and can hold 70 people in the queue, with separate exits and entrances.
“That’s going to be very advantageous for the Metrowest area,” he said.
The big remaining concern, though, is about the most vulnerable members of Natick and surrounding communities who will have difficulty getting to a site like that. They’re still going to be more comfortable at a more intimate clinic like the town has held for the flu, even providing transportation when needed. White also wanted to vaccinate town employees since “we’re here, they’re here.”
“We’re all a little heartbroken that [the state] took us out of it,” White said, adding that his team was in shock for a day or so after getting the word. “This is what we’ve always been trained for, this is what we do best… I guess they just thought they wanted to move the vaccinations faster. They didn’t think we could move fast enough…” White said Natick could have handled all the vaccine it could have received, and did in fact use every single dose it was granted for the seven clinics it held.
White is looking forward to vaccinating elderly and disabled residents at Natick Housing Authority’s Coolidge Gardens, his old junior high, where wide hallways will allow residents to sit outside their apartments and get their vaccines (same goes for Cedar Gardens). Vaccinations are planned for Wednesday-Friday next week.
As for Natick’s COVID-19 situation, numbers are heading in the right direction, as they are for the state, White said. Natick’s number of cases in isolation has dropped from a high of 188 to 55 to 66 over the past week.
One other note of good news: White said the department has received enough grants to cover all extra expenses throughout the pandemic, and still has grant money in the bank that had been earmarked to support vaccination clinics. “I have not spent $1 out of town funds to this point,” he said.
Coming up at the next Board of Health meeting: A very special appearance by Natick Public Schools Supt. Anna Nolin, who has pool testing on her mind.
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