WESTFIELD/SOUTHWICK – Despite all the hard work of Westfield Health Director Joseph Rouse, Council on Aging Director Tina Gorman and Mayor Donald F. Humason Jr, Westfield will not have a vaccine clinic anytime soon.
Neither will Southwick, where Health Director Tammy Spencer and Council on Aging Director Cindy Sullivan have been working with the Select Board and community to host a clinic there.
Gov. Charles D. Baker squashed local clinic plans when he sent a letter to cities and towns across the Commonwealth this week notifying them that the state would not provide vaccine doses to municipalities for locally run clinics effective March 1.
“Apparently, they are focusing on mass vaccine distribution sites and pharmacies,” stated a disappointed Humason, who spoke with Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito to express his concerns.
Humason posted on Facebook that “she said the state can’t give us a vaccine clinic but she pledged to work on getting vaccine doses to the pharmacies in Westfield so our residents won’t need to travel to get their vaccines.”
Humason and Westfield Health Director Joseph Rouse released a video on the topic Thursday. Rouse said while he is also disappointed, he appreciates the effort to get vaccines in local pharmacies so residents don’t have to go to the closest mass vaccination site at the Eastfield Mall in Springfield.
“If CVS and Walgreens are a place where people can go so they don’t have to cross the river, I’m fine with that,” said Rouse, “but right now it’s not being equitably distributed in Hampden County.”
Humason said that Baker is focusing on pharmacies and mass vaccination sites right now, but as with all things COVID-19, that could change.
“This could change daily,” he said.
Sullivan was also disappointed at the news.
“I think it is unfortunate that the state has taken away the ability of local senior centers and boards of health to administer the vaccine to its most vulnerable population,” said Sullivan. “We were working hand in hand with the board of health and we were ready to run a clinic.”
Sullivan said it’s another challenge for seniors.
“Seniors have had a hard enough time navigating through this pandemic and now our top officials have decided that driving almost 45 minutes is acceptable,” Sullivan said. “It’s not acceptable, but as we have been doing, we will pivot once again. We are asking people to schedule appointments and call the Senior Center if they need transportation. If they are having issues with 211 we are happy to help.
“Patience is important during this time and although the decisions are frustrating, we will get through this.”
Gorman remains hopeful that a clinic can be hosted in the city soon.
“I am very hopeful that in the near future the Commonwealth will support municipal vaccine clinics,” said Gorman. “I am particularly concerned that the 75+ cohort is being left behind. Those with hearing, visual, mobility or cognitive limitations need access to the vaccine in a small supportive environment among workers whom they trust.”
Gorman said the city has a fairly large population of older adults.
“We have 800 people living in Westfield who are over the age of 85. Some have no family in the area and their support system consists of friends their own age,” she said. “They simply cannot navigate a mega vaccine site, with or without assistance. We began receiving calls yesterday from older adults who are going to skip their second vaccine dose because the entire vaccine process has been too daunting for them.”
Gorman said the Westfield Council On Aging staff is joining with COAs from across the state in an effort to convince those making these crucial decisions to support local vaccine clinics, especially for those who are over the age of 75 or homebound.