WESTFIELD – At the last City Council meeting of the year Dec. 17, Council President Brent B. Bean II made a motion to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine timeline and plan for distribution for the City of Westfield, and called for a meeting with the mayor and public health members.
“I believe we need a sound plan and get ahead of the curve so that we were able to distribute these vaccines seamlessly,” Bean said after the meeting, adding, “There isn’t much information out there right now on how the cities and towns will distribute the vaccine other than getting these vaccines to our first responders.”
The group met on Dec. 22 and was told by Public Health Director Joseph A. Rouse that Westfield is ready, and has been preparing for such an event for 20 years.
Rouse said after 9/11, the federal government recognized the need for a public health response, and that public health impacts all states through their boards of health. A program of emergency preparedness was implemented, which offered funding and training for local boards of health for natural disasters, chemical spills and pandemics. Rouse said both he and Assistant Director Debra Mulvenna have been involved since that time; Mulvenna even longer.
“We kinda hoped it wouldn’t happen during our tenure,” Rouse said, but they have been training and certifying for just such an event.
Rouse said the Westfield Board of Health is prepared for the vaccines. He said they have pharmaceutical grade refrigerators and deep cold freezers; not quite to the minus 70 Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit) needed for the Pfizer vaccine. He said if they get that type, it comes self-contained in a freezer pack provided by the state, and they will have a certain number of days to distribute it.
Rouse said the timeline of vaccine distribution was set by an advisory group led by the state department of public health that developed a three phase plan for rollout back in October.
Phase 1, which has already begun and Rouse expects to be completed by the end of January, will include clinical and non-clinical health care workers doing direct and COVID-facing care. He said those workers are being vaccinated exclusively through their facilities, hospitals and doctor’s offices. Vaccinations at long-term care facilities, rest homes and assisted living facilities are also underway.
The next group in order of priority in Phase 1 are police, fire and emergency medical services through municipalities. “They have just reached out to us for a count on how many doses Westfield will need for these personnel,” he said.
Also included in Phase 1 will be congregate care settings (including corrections and shelters); home-based health care workers and health care workers doing non-COVID facing care.
Phase 2 of the timeline, which is scheduled to run February to April, will include in order of priority, individuals with two or more comorbidities who are considered at high risk for COVID-19 complications; early education – K-12, transit, grocery, utility, food and agriculture, sanitation, public works and public health workers; adults 65 plus, and individuals with one comorbidity.
Phase 3, which is scheduled to run from April to June, although Rouse believes it could begin in March, are when vaccines will be available to the general public. He said the schedule and detailed information about the plan is available on the state website at www.mass.gov/covid-19-vaccine-in-massachusetts.
“We’re going to get all front line workers done, individuals with two or more comorbidities, and will have some involvement with schools and teachers,” Rouse said. He said the vaccinations for the general public will be a collaboration of local Boards of Health, primary care physicians, and community pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens.
Rouse said he doesn’t get a lot of chances to go out in the community and tell people not to worry, Westfield is all set. “Be rest assured. I don’t want people to think we’re clamoring around. There is a plan in place. We have the necessary resources and experience to do whatever is expected of us. As long as the vaccine is available to us, we’ll pump it out,” he said.
He also encouraged people with questions to call the Health Department at 413 572-6210, where he said they answer questions about the vaccine all day long.
Bean called the lack of information from the state “disheartening,” but added, “I am confident when the information and guidelines are given, the city will be able to respond quickly.”
Mayor Donald F. Humason Jr. said any decision about the vaccine will be made in conjunction with Rouse and his team, “the experts I rely on,” and said they will work collaboratively for the rollout here in town.
Rouse went even further. ”The overall message is, if Westfield can’t handle this, nobody can handle this,” he said.