Tentative general population vaccination plans involve drive-thru clinics

Dr. Elizabeth Buck, right, gets her first of two COVID-19 vaccination shots administered by registered nurse Ashley Gavin at the Saranac Lake Hudson Headwaters Health Network office in the Adirondack Medical Center building on Tuesday. Buck will return in 28 days for a second dose of the vaccine. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Vaccine distribution to the general population may begin in late January, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and the Franklin and Essex County health departments are preparing to run mass vaccination clinics, should the state ask counties to disseminate the coronavirus vaccine.

Currently, the vaccine is being distributed by the state directly to hospitals, Franklin County Public Health Program Improvement Specialist Erin Streiff said Tuesday. It is possible, but not guaranteed, that after the state completes its first few phases of targeted vaccine distribution to health care workers, essential workers, and those most at risk, the counties could be called upon to organize vaccination clinics for the rest of the population.

Health departments are planning to vaccinate people right in their cars at drive-thru clinics, which will be set up inside large buildings lines of cars can drive in and out of.

Patricia Monroe, a pediatrician at Hudson Headwaters Health Network’s office inside Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake, said these drive-thru clinics are a “great idea,” adding that the drive-thru testing clinic at AMC has been working well.

Essex County Public Health Director Linda Beers told the Essex County Board of Supervisors earlier this month that her department was exploring the idea of setting up pop-up, drive-thru vaccine clinics. These ones would be outdoors, though.

The Essex County Health Department has tested out this drive-thru, outdoor model for years, since the H1N1 virus, according to Beers, and has been recently testing it out with flu clinics. She thanked the staff for spending all day administering flu vaccines in the cold and rain, adding that the department got its time down to four minutes per person.

At the drive-thru

Franklin County has received approval from the villages of Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake and the town of Malone to host drive-thru testing inside large municipal garages in each population center.

The Tupper Lake village Electric Department garage, the Saranac Lake village Department of Public Works garage and the Malone School Bus garage would be the three locations, and Franklin County Emergency Services Coordinator Ricky Provost said these locations have all been approved through memorandums of understanding with each respective local government.

Provost said these were determined to be the best sites for the region. The county wanted locations where people can stay inside their cars to reduce potential spread, stay out of the cold so nurses do not have to work in harsh weather and drive straight through the building so the vaccinated do not need to turn around.

Streiff said there will be accommodations made for people to receive the vaccine if they are not in a vehicle.

“Equity is absolutely a priority,” Streiff said.

Streiff said people will be asked to stop their engines once they get inside, to reduce the collection of harmful gasses. She also said the buildings have ventilation and meters to measure air quality.

Streiff said there will be a 15-minute wait time after the vaccine is administered, during which the vaccinated person will be monitored before leaving. She said this is standard for anyone receiving any vaccine for the first time and is not unique to the COVID-19 vaccine.

She said reactions including redness or swelling at the injection site are common in vaccinations and are to be expected.

Provost and Streiff said their departments already perform distribution drills yearly in preparation for events such as this, where medical supplies need to be widely distributed, so they believe the county is ready to go if the state asks.

Provost said his department is a “supportive branch” covering logistics for the county.

Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Shaun Gillilland said the county considered using shuttle buses that were purchased for hiker transportation — but not used this summer, due to the pandemic — as mobile vaccine distribution clinics.

Beers envisions the department staffing one clinic per day in Essex County at different locations every week, then cycling through again to distribute the second vaccine dose to residents.

Even when the vaccine becomes available to the general population, a return to “normal” is likely still far off. Last week Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. top infectious disease expert, told NPR that 50% of Americans would have to get vaccinated before the number of COVID-19 infections would be impacted, and that 75 to 85% would have to get vaccinated for blanket herd immunity, when public health officials can recommend behavioral changes.

In the mean time, Streiff said a more vaccinated public should lead to a lessening of local community spread of the virus.


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