With the governor’s recent announcement that the next groups eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine are people age 55-64 and all teachers and childcare workers, it has fallen to the local municipalities to coordinate any process for vaccinating local educators.
According to Gov. Ned Lamont and the CT Department of Public Health Acting Commissioner Dr. Deidre Gifford, vaccines are being allocated by the state specifically for the teachers. Those vaccines will be sent to the local health officials in each town, who will coordinate on a local level with school districts and licensed childcare facilities. State officials have also said that vaccinating teachers should take priority, although any clinics scheduled before the governor’s announcement should not be changed or bumped.
Wilton hasn’t gotten word that the current weekly allotment of vaccines will change or increase at all in order to quickly accommodate the close to 1,000 estimated members of the educator group, let alone schedule new clinics for other eligible residents.
So how are town officials making it work? We spoke with First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice about how she, Health Director Barry Bogle, and other town employees are working with all the Wilton schools and childcare facilities to do what they can to vaccinate Wilton educators as quickly as possible.
GOOD Morning Wilton: The state is very limited on the number of vaccines it’s been sending to Wilton. Have you had any issues being able to schedule teachers and also continue running clinics for non-teachers for other people eligible to be vaccinated?
Lynne Vanderslice: Before the governor made his announcement, the town of Wilton had two planned clinics: one clinic during the first week of March, and a second clinic in the second week of March. Those two clinics were specifically to administer second doses, and the dates of those clinics were determined based on when those second doses needed to be administered.
GMW: And second doses are scheduled based on when the first dose has had been administered?
Vanderslice: Yes. So we have known for weeks that we were going to be holding [second dose] clinics on March 3 and on March 11.
When you do a closed first-dose clinic like we did on Feb. 11, the corresponding number of second doses were [automatically] packaged by Moderna. The shipping label was put on them and the delivery was scheduled to send them to us in time that we could administer them at our March 11 clinic. It’s a two-way guarantee: we guarantee to hold that second clinic and we get a guaranteed allocation for that clinic.
GMW: So there’s no undoing that…no canceling or rescheduling to give those doses to teachers instead?
Vanderslice: No, there’s no undoing that. There is no undoing that period.
When we made the decision that we were going to hold closed clinics for residents, age 75-and-up, we were creating an obligation for ourselves to provide those residents with the second dose. But we were also obligating the state to allocate second doses to those 75-and-up residents. We guaranteed our aged 75-and-up residents easy access to a second dose, which we thought was a very important thing to do.
Then we learned of the governor’s announcement [about vaccinating educators] and received follow-up confirmation from the commissioner of DPH that we should go forward with our planned second-dose clinics. But any new additional doses that we would be receiving would be for dedicated clinics for education and childcare workers within our community.
GMW: Have you scheduled any clinics for educators and childcare workers?
Vanderslice: The town of Wilton had already reached out to the schools in February to vaccinate any Board of Education employees that were age 65-and-above that required a vaccine. So on Feb. 11, we vaccinated a group of BOE employees. Those BOE employees are going to be receiving their second vaccine dose at our March 11 clinic.
The first clinic [for educators scheduled since the governor’s new announcement] is this Friday, March 5, for staff at Miller-Driscoll and Cider Mill schools.
Board of Ed personnel had previously provided us with a list of staff in those two buildings that were choosing to have the vaccine. The school is resurveying those individuals to determine if they already have had the vaccine because teachers were eligible, just like everybody else, to begin scheduling their own appointments on Monday. So some may have already had the vaccine.
It’s not only the Wilton Public Schools’ teachers–we have that larger group, so we expect to provide additional clinics. We expect to receive the allocation from the state DPH because they’ve told the local health districts, “Hold these clinics, we’ll provide you with the doses.” But we know from our past experience, you do not always receive the number of doses that you request. So we don’t know for certain when we are going to receive those doses.
I’ll give you an example of the way we have operated: For 75-and-up clinics, we would have a tentative date where we would expect to have a clinic. We would wait until the doses actually came in, so we would know whether we are receiving 300, 200 or 100 doses. And when those doses would come in, we then would schedule the clinic and contact the residents and fill up the clinic.
We did not contact residents and put them into a clinic before we had the doses because we did not want to have to cancel people. We had situations where we requested a certain number of doses and what came in was less than we requested. And we never wanted to promise a resident an appointment and then not be able to deliver.
So that’s the way we do our clinics. We get our doses and then we fill the appointments for the clinic–which is the same plan moving forward with educator and childcare providers.
GMW: To clarify, this is not just the public school teachers. This is also preschools?
Vanderslice: It is licensed childcare facilities, preschools, and K-12. We have an obligation for Wilton Public Schools, Our Lady of Fatima, the Montessori School, and 27 licensed childcare facilities or programs in Wilton. The Connecticut DPH required that we work with each of those 30 different organizations to develop a plan, to have their eligible in-person employees be vaccinated. That plan might involve us setting up the clinics ourselves. It might involve us working with them to bring in a vaccine provider. You have the flexibility to figure out the best solution with the goal of trying to get that done during the month of March.
GMW: Is there any way to estimate how many people you expect to be vaccinating in those 30 facilities?
Vanderslice: The health director is contacting all of those facilities to determine the number of people for each facility, so we don’t have that total yet.
We received approximately 600 employee names from the Board of Education. Those were the employees that chose to have the vaccine, exclusive of the 65-and-up that we have already provided with a first dose.
GMW: And that’s just the Wilton Public Schools, that does not include Fatima, Montessori, and the 27 others?
GMW: And the intention is to get through those eligible teachers, educators, and childcare workers, by the end of March?
Vanderslice: That is the goal that the Connecticut Department of Public Health has set. And to accomplish that goal, you need the vaccines. So what we can do ourselves as a town, and all providers, is 100% dependent on Connecticut DPH shipping us the vaccines.
Which is why it’s really important for everyone to fully understand what the governor’s team has told us. They said it’s 610,000 people that are eligible as of March 1, but they only expect 366,000 will choose to have the vaccine. And there are 131,000 doses being shipped to Connecticut for the first week of March–and next week’s shipment will be smaller. So if people choose to have the vaccine at a higher rate, this group could take longer. That’s very important for people to keep in the back of their minds–this could be a very aggressive schedule that the governor laid out.
We may find that people are much more willing to have the vaccine than they thought. People have to be patient. People hear March 1 and they think the vaccine is going to be available on March 1. That isn’t what they said–they said one group as of March 1, and then the next group can come in on March 22. Well, that’s three weeks later.
So they are estimating the people that became eligible on March 1 is going to take a minimum of three weeks, but you do the math. On March one, everybody 65-and-up hadn’t yet had their vaccine. They still had appointments this week. So when you become eligible for an appointment, you should assume that is going to take a couple of weeks. It’s no different than when you call your doctor to schedule an appointment. You usually don’t get in the next day. And it’s the exact same thing with vaccines.
GMW: And all of the educators had to be registered through VAMS?
Vanderslice: If you’re going to use VAMS, you need to register as an employer, and then you can put your employees into the system. It basically eliminates the first step of the process for the employee.
For instance, Pam Ely, the director of the Children’s Day School of Wilton, registered as an employer and she put her employees into the VAMS. The town of Wilton registered as an employer and we put our police, fire, and emergency medical personnel in.
So we offered to do that for the Board of Education, rather than requiring the BOE to go through. It takes a few days to get certified as an employer and then they would have to become familiarized with VAMS.
So instead I offered Sarah Gioffre, who is the Community Coordinator for the town of Wilton, and Patricia Brant who is working with her on vaccines. Sarah and Patricia volunteered to work on Sunday evening to input the 600 BOE employees. That way, as soon as it hit midnight, those employees were registered and they would’ve received their emails which came out just a few minutes before midnight so that you could set up your account and at midnight you could go into VAMS and begin booking appointments.
Sarah and Patricia put the 600 names into VAMS Sunday night, and we did one test before putting in all the other names and that person got their email from VAMS immediately. Of course, they weren’t eligible to book an appointment until Monday. Which is why we did had to do it on Sunday night. The other option was to do it on Monday morning, but we wanted to give the BOE employees the advantage of being ready as soon as it hit midnight.
Patricia Brandt is permanently on loan to the BOE to facilitate scheduling those appointments. I made that commitment to [WPS Superintendent] Kevin Smith. She’s experienced, she’s been doing this.
GMW: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Vanderslice: The goal of our vaccine team is to have as many people vaccinated as possible. So we’re doing everything we can to be prepared to hold these clinics as quickly as possible after the vaccines are received.
We have a great team. It’s the same team for all these clinics. We have everything all set up at WEPCO. We’re so fortunate that WEPCO is allowing us to use the space and to leave it set up.
So we’re good to go. We know what we’re doing. We’ve got a good team. You know, give us the vaccines and we will get them into the arms of the educators and the childcare providers.
GMW reached out to Wilton Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Smith for his point of view on how the process has worked on his end. The article will be updated as soon as we hear back.