Vaccination Clinic Opens at Swift: ‘This Is Hope Today’

by | Dec 28, 2020

Above:  Clinic pharmacist Tara Higgins gets a first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 at Swift Community Center Monday.

The beginning of the end arrived at Swift Community Center around 7 a.m. Monday – two relatively small boxes filled with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. It was enough to cover the roughly 300 people on the EG schedule to get a dose on this first day of the Rhode Island regional distribution clinics for health care and certified EMS workers. 

East Greenwich is one of seven regional PODs (point of dispensing) clinics, the so-called mid-state POD, serving North Kingstown, West Warwick, West Greenwich, Coventry, Warwick, Cranston, and EG. 

“When we received that call early on from the Department of Health [to serve as a POD] … we had the facility, we’re centrally located. I think we felt good that we had the systems in place to support our region in this initial round,” said Town Manager Andy Nota. 

While the clinic is being run by the town’s Emergency Management team – Nota (EMA director), DPW Special Projects Manager Fred Gomes (EMA deputy director) and Highway Superintendent Jim Fogel (EMA assistant) – all the participating municipalities are providing staffing help. EMS workers will be doing the vaccinating, others will be helping to check in people, etc. 

Included in the staffing was the need for a doctor and a pharmacist on site for each of the clinic dates. In EG, Hub Brennan is serving as the medical director and Tara Higgins is serving as the site pharmacist for all the first-dose clinics.

“The manager called and there’s only one answer when you’re from East Greenwich and that’s yes,” said Brennan. “I knew Tara would help us so we’re happy to be here. We didn’t want Andy to have to worry about doctors or pharmacists.”

Nota said he was glad for the continuity.

Each vial of the Moderna vaccine holds 10 doses.

Brennan has had his hands full in recent months. In addition his private practice and staffing the clinics, he’s been covering shifts at the field hospital in Cranston. He shrugged off the extra work.

“Now’s the time to step up,” he said. “This isn’t forever. It’s for several weeks but it needs to be done and we are happy to be part of it.”

Higgins said she’d been fielding a lot of questions about the vaccines. 

“The stars aligned with the vaccine,” she said. “To get the DNA code early on, that was key. People get nervous about the FDA approval process. The FDA actually beefed up their staff.… All of the steps were done and it’s just the consolidation of the time frame.”

Brennan expressed concern about peoples’ reluctance to take the vaccine. 

“Our inability to eradicate this virus will not be because of an ineffective vaccine. The vaccines are blockbusters. It will be that we don’t reach herd immunity because people are reluctant to get it,” he said. 

Brennan said he hoped those who weren’t willing to get the vaccine would change their minds as more people get it.  

“The people going first are leading by example,” he said.

Asst. Town Planner Lea Anthony, Fire Chief Bernie Patenaude, EMA Assistant Jim Fogel, and EMA Deputy Dir. Fred Gomes.

Everyone who’s part of this first round of vaccinations outside of hospitals was notified by either DOH or the various municipalities and sent a confidential link to sign up for a time to get the vaccine. Right now there are six days set aside for the first round of vaccinations (the full vaccine requires two doses): Dec. 28-19, Jan. 4-5, and Jan. 11-12, with followup doses distributed 28 days later.

Vaccine slots had not filled as quickly as had been anticipated, so over the weekend the state approved casting a slightly wider net for recipients, including all police and fire personnel, the state police, and school nurses. 

For Fred Gomes and Jim Fogel, who normally handle weather-type emergencies, like blizzards, for the town, getting the clinic up and running was a giant jigsaw puzzle that took countless hours. First it was going to be a Cole Middle School, but that didn’t seem like the best idea with school in session. Then they thought of trying a drive-through vaccination process at EGFD’s Station 2 on Frenchtown Road. But, as Gomes explained Monday, “We couldn’t push enough people through there so we decided to come here.”

And, with the help of partitions borrowed from the RI Blood Center (hat tip, Doc Brennan), the old Academy gymnasium was transformed into a health clinic with 10 different vaccine stations able to accommodate up to 60 people an hour.

Monday’s rollout went smoothly. 

“I feel really great about it. I really do,” said Nota. “I think this is hope today. It’s actually something you can see is happening.”

For Fogel, EG’s highway superintendent and EMA assistant, working on this was a big departure and yet not quite. He’s used to juggling a number of different elements. 

Still, he conceded, there were “a lot of sleepless nights thinking about this.” 

Seeing it all go as planned was gratifying. “It’s working out very well,” he said. “Just seeing all the volunteers come together here, the group effort. What a team.”

Nota got the vaccine just after noon on Monday (municipal employees who work at the clinic are eligible to get the vaccine). In total, 292 people were vaccinated at Swift Monday, with no ill effects noted at the time of their release, Nota said Monday evening. The clinic will continue Tuesday from 3 to 9 p.m. 

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15 Comments

  1. Audrey Bartolomeo

    You can always count on Fred Gomes and Jim Fogel doing a great job!

    Reply
  2. Judith Sheldon

    Will you be posting a achedule.if what groups get vaccine when ? Most of us are being kept pretty much in the dark about this.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth McNamara

      This is a closed clinic. But I will see what I can find out about when the public can start to get vaccinated.

      Reply
    • Vincent lallo

      I’m wondering when my father can get a vaccination, he is 87 years old and has under lying health problems, where and when would be helpful. Thank You jennifer Zwolinski ( i am Vincent’s daughter and caregiver)

      Reply
      • Elizabeth McNamara

        Hi Jennifer. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot more information about people beyond those first named to get the vaccine: health care workers, EMTs and other first responders, and those people who are staffing the vaccination clinics. I recommend talking to your dad’s primary care doctor. Sorry I don’t have more information for you. (p.s. I live up the street on Prospect … say hi to your dad. – Elizabeth McNamara)

        Reply
  3. Pam Mitchell

    AtMed Treatment Center-Urgent Care in EG should be added to the list of eligible recipients. We are taking care of all the patients that the primary care offices are refusing to see in their office and many are Covid positive patients.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth McNamara

      I believe the Dept. of Health is designating which health care providers are eligible – maybe check with them?

      Reply
  4. Deborah

    I am school nurse/teacher and reside in EG. How can I find out about getting vaccinated?

    Reply
    • Elizabeth McNamara

      I would contact your school district administration. The decision to add school nurse/teachers only happened on Saturday or Sunday. Good luck. Circle back if you have trouble.

      Reply
  5. Judy Stenberg

    Thanks for this good news. And thanks to Tara and Hub and all others who worked at the vaccine station. Does this mean that when those of us of a “certain age” will be vaccinated there too when the time is right?

    Reply
  6. Laura L Frakey

    Hello Ms. McNamara- I was surprised to see this article about the clinic. I am a health care provider in the community and when I inquired to the DOH when non-hospital employed providers would be given access to the vaccine, I was told that no decisions had been made on who is in which phase of the roll out. They did not say they were providing vaccines to anyone at this point. The hospitals are vaccinating every employee, regardless of patient contact. including those who provide only tele health and those of us providing healthcare in the community cannot even find out which phase we are in for vaccination. The lack of transparency with which this is being handled is stunning.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth McNamara

      Thanks for letting me know. I will see what more I can find out.

      Reply
    • Meg Carroll

      I’m not a healthcare worker, but I also find this stunning.vaccinate the healthcare workers/first responders first!

      Reply
  7. Shannon

    I work for Care.com as a healthcare worker, would I be eligible to get vaccinated ?

    Reply
    • Elizabeth McNamara

      The first phase of vaccines at Swift have finished (they will be distributing second doses soon). According to the Dept. of Health, home health workers employed by a licensed agency are in the first phase – you would find out more through the agency. If you are an independent healthcare worker (say, a CNA who works for someone in their home), you would need to be enrolled in “an independent provider or personal program.” However, I’m not sure just what that is. Your best bet might be to ask the DOH directly – here’s a link: https://covid.ri.gov/vaccination/submit-question. We are trying to get more information and will post as we know more. – Elizabeth McNamara

      Reply

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