Pop-up clinics ensure not a drop of COVID vaccine goes to waste

Pop-up clinics ensure not a drop of COVID vaccine goes to waste

By: Kyle Stucker
Fosters Daily Democrat 

Read the full article on Fosters.com

DOVER — Area residents say they’re being helped “tremendously” through the state’s decision to allow local public health networks to administer leftover, soon-to-expire COVID-19 vaccine doses to them.

Tamara Collins, 87, of Dover, and her husband John were among the homebound individuals COAST Bus picked up and transported for vaccinations Thursday at a special pop-up clinic health officials operate at Community Action Partnership of Strafford County’s Dover office.

Leftover COVID-19 vaccine doses

“This came up very fast and is a fantastic, really fantastic service,” said Collins, who said her husband was originally scheduled to get his shot “months ago” but the appointment time didn’t materialize and they had to start the process over. “The way things are set up with the people that take care of people like us — old people — is more than fantastic and we’re more than grateful.”

The CAP clinic is one of the periodic fixed locations at which the region’s public health networks, the Seacoast Public Health Network and the Strafford County Public Health Network, work to administer extra doses to people who might otherwise struggle to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine or be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

The networks, much like the rest of New Hampshire’s 13 public health networks, are also working together to administer last-minute vaccination clinics out in the field in Strafford and coastal Rockingham counties whenever the state notifies them they have doses nearing expiration.

It’s not always an easy task, health network officials say, because there usually isn’t much advance notice for when extra doses will be available. However, they said it’s giving officials and 1,800 volunteers in the greater Seacoast area unique opportunities each week to play historic and fulfilling roles in serving people in need.

“The regional public health networks bring the equity in the equitable response, and providing vaccine in an equitable manner is solid public health work because it makes our population healthier as a whole,” said Scott Schuler, a member of the Strafford County Public Health Advisory Council’s executive board.

The extra doses and last-minute clinics are happening as part of the state’s previously announced plan to set aside 10% of available COVID-19 vaccine as part of an equity allotment so people in congregate living situations, people of color, people of certain ethnicities and other populations at risk of disproportionate impact from the novel coronavirus aren’t left out, according to Schuler and state officials.

“Providing the vaccine and bringing it to people, that’s equity,” said Ashley Desrochers, the young adult prevention coordinator at Goodwin Community Health and one of the individuals running emergency clinics in the area. She ran two different clinics in Strafford County on Wednesday and had multiple clinics planned for Thursday. “Most of the work we do is equity work because we say, ‘Where is this population? What’s the best way to access them?’ We’re bringing vaccines to people.”

How COVID-19 doses are distributed

Whenever the state sends notice it has doses nearing expiration, the two local public health networks and their partners and volunteers schedule and mobilize drive-through and indoor clinics at set locations. That’s what happened Sunday, Feb. 28, when 500 last-minute doses were administered between CAP’s Dover office and other set local locations, like healthcare provider offices.

The networks also organize days in which they go room to room inside housing complexes to administer vaccinations, or drive out to homebound individuals’ houses, to care facilities and to retirement communities.

“Our clinic will finish at 5 o’clock and I’ll feel like a visiting nurse because I’m going house to house to house,” said Strafford County Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Mary Kerr. “Some people look at that and say, ‘Why are you doing that? It takes so much time,’ but that’s what we’re doing to ensure those extra doses after the clinic get to those people who are harder to reach during a (regular) clinic response. … It’s very time-consuming, but it’s the ethical and right thing to do.”

The Dover Fire and Rescue Department is among the area partners helping vaccinate people out in the field. One such operation happened Wednesday morning, when they and other volunteers helped administer 90 doses of the Moderna vaccine at Central Towers, a large Dover Housing Authority apartment building across from downtown’s Henry Law Park that houses a number of older residents.

“I think the biggest key … is the education itself,” Kerr said while noting they have the ability and materials to explain in grade school-level terms in 30 different languages what the vaccine is and how it works. “While the public may see us herding cattle through, which is the favorite way of putting it, it’s done in a very respectful manner of each person making an individual decision for themselves. We are very pro-vaccine at the public health network, but we support each and every person’s ability to make their own decision for their own bodies.”

Nationally, there have been concerns and allegations extra doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been distributed unethically or in ways that have allowed individuals to jump vaccination queues.

Schuler said each clinic run by New Hampshire’s public health networks is carefully run according to state guidelines.

Schuler said the location and model of each pop-up clinic is built around the people and populations they’ll serve, while the recipients are determined using state data and vaccination schedules.

“Our first deciding factor is what phase we’re working in, which is set by state guidelines, and we try to narrow down within that what makes the most sense,” said Schuler. “Where can we get a large number? If it’s only 10 people, that’s a little bit more challenging for us because it takes resources, versus if we can do 300 at a time, that’s certainly more appealing. So, we’ll make the decision based on that.”

Often, the clinics serve medical professionals and first responders in Phase 1A and at risk populations in Phase 1B who haven’t yet gotten their first dose, or are scheduled a month or more out for their second dose. Many of the people vaccinated at Central Towers Wednesday received their second doses.

Schuler said many of their field operations to date have served people who might struggle to take time off work, make travel arrangements or schedule appointments to get vaccinated at one of the state-run drive-thru vaccination sites. (The Seacoast’s state-run sites are located at the C&J terminal in Dover and Exeter High School.)

“How do they fit within the phase and what is their access to be able to get to the fixed site?” said Schuler. “If it’s a population that might have a barrier, that’s a population we want to work within.”

Seacoast and Strafford networks haven’t wasted a dose

Schuler, Kerr and Desrochers said the Seacoast and Strafford networks haven’t wasted a single dose to date — not even when a recent cold storage unit failure led Desrochers to hurriedly transport 500 doses of Pfizer vaccine from her office to a fixed vaccination clinic by holding them out the window of her moving car.

“It was 33 degrees outside. At the time I didn’t know it was OK to be out of temp for 15 minutes, (which is) called an excursion,” said Desrochers, who said she couldn’t help but feel parallels to an impromptu side-of-the-road vaccine distribution outside her hometown of Grants Pass, Oregon, that made national headlines in January. “Well, we had an excursion because my first thought was, ‘I’ll just hold it out the window.’ Not even kidding — I’m driving through Dover with 500 Pfizer vaccinations out my window.”

The emergency clinic approach and commitment to putting people first in the models has allowed the Strafford and Seacoast networks to vaccinate thousands, according to Schuler, Kerr and Desrochers.

“What I say is the more shots in arms, the more community protection,” said Desrochers. “Just like everybody wears masks, the more people have vaccines in their arms, the more protection our community will ultimately have. We obviously don’t know yet that it prevents spread. We’re hoping that is the case, but if fewer people are symptomatic, fewer infections and hospitalizations (are going to happen).”

Translate »