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Briefings: What is Vaccine & Unseen in Springfield…

Get ready Springfield. (via google image search & official city iconography)

SPRINGFIELD—As the hoped-for vaccines to guard against COVID-19 appear on the horizon, officials here are preparing for their role in distribution. Supplies will be extremely limited in December if, as expected, the Food and Drug Administration authorizes emergency use. Hospitals like Mercy and Baystate Health will likely play a key role early on.

However, as stocks of the injection grow, the city’s health department will play a larger role likely alongside or in conjunction with major pharmacy chains and doctors’ offices. This will prompt some logistical challenges. Yet, amid criticism about testing availability, city councilors are airing concerns about Springfield’s allocation of the vaccines when, God willing, they receive the green light later this month.

Last week, regulators in the United Kingdom approved a vaccine Pfizer had developed. Moderna, which is based in Massachusetts,  could see its vaccine receive approval there soon, too. The FDA could issue its approval as soon as this week and next for Pfizer and Moderna respectively. However, early supplies will be extremely tight.

Baystate Health CEO Dr. Mark Keroack, speaking at Springfield’s weekly COVID briefing last Monday, was sanguine about approval. Moreover, Keroack did not express concern about US regulator rushing approval through. He added that Baystate would not distribute a vaccine it did not deem safe.

However, he has also acknowledged logistical challenges. The Pfizer vaccine requires frosty nighttime on Mars temperatures during storage. Keroack and Dr. Robert Roose, Mercy Medical Center’s Chief Medical Officer, have said their hospitals had purchased such arctic-cold freezers.

The early injections will target those in long-term care facilities and their caregivers. Medical professionals working in hospitals, especially with COVID patients, are at the top of the list. However, it could be some weeks before they get their first jab. Both Pfizer and Moderna’s shot, as well as another with positive results from AstraZeneca & Oxford University, require two shots some weeks apart.

Helen Caulton-Harris, Springfield’s Health & Human Services Commissioner, said last week that the city has experience with mass vaccination drives. Later, when vaccines are more plentiful, the city could mobilize to inoculate people, likely the aged and medically vulnerable first, at some scale.

West enough? Councilor Davila, center, says His Excellency’s vaccine panel lacks sufficient regional representation. Councilor Lederman and Williams, pictured, were among those who signed his letter. (WMassP&I)

When and how such availability will come is on councilors’ minds, though. In a letter Ward 6 Councilor Victor Davila spearhead and all but three of 13 of his colleagues signed, councilors took issue with Governor Charlie Baker’s failure to appoint enough representatives from the 413 to his Vaccine Advisory Group.

“It is imperative that we have a seat at the table to effectively combat this awful Pandemic, which has caused so much death in our state and throughout the world,” the councilors wrote.

They cited the relative dearth of free testing facilities in the region as evidence of the state’s occidental oversight. Available testing sites have been packed, especially at times of peak demand such as around the Thanksgiving holiday.

“We insist that Western Massachusetts and Springfield receive a fair and equitable supply of vaccinations in a timely manner and that we are not, once again, left out during the process,” the letter continues, returning to the vaccine supply.

Phoebe Walker of the Franklin County Regional Council of Governments is a member in Baker’s group from Western Mass. However, there is nobody with ties to urban Western Massachusetts and Davila has also said one Western Mass representative is insufficient. When Baker established his reopening council, for example, it included the mayor of Easthampton, Nicole LaChapelle and Dr. Keroack.

The state is planning to receive some 300,000 doses this month. However, it is unclear whether this will inoculate 150,000 individuals or 300,000 with their second dose arriving separately next month. These figures, while significant, are well short of a volume to set up mass vaccination sites. Caulton-Harris said last week she did not see that happening before April.

Amid the challenges, perhaps the best news is reluctance to take the vaccine may be low. Keroack noted last week that Hampden County has stellar vaccination rates for other inoculations.