At Monday night’s Board of Selectmen‘s meeting, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice and Sarah Gioffre, Wilton’s coordinator of community affairs, presented a look at how vaccines will be distributed and how the Town of Wilton will manage the first few phases of the state’s vaccine allocation plan.
With vaccine distribution begun in December through the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed to the distribution process organized by the state, vaccines are now being administered to people eligible under the state plan, which is currently focused on Phase 1.a.
This first cohort includes healthcare personnel, long-term care facility residents and staff, and Emergency Medical Service personnel. [For a more complete breakdown of categories eligible in each phase, refer to GMW‘s story on how the state is managing vaccine distribution, also published today.]
The town has qualified as an employer of essential workers and will be able to provide vaccines to employees that qualify under each phase.
Emergency responders with a high risk because of direct exposure to those with COVID-19 are included in Phase 1.a; that includes EMTs, police officers and firefighters who respond to medical emergencies.
Emergency responders who are determined to have less direct exposure would be included in either Phase 1.b. or 1.c.
Vanderslice acknowledged to GMW that there are town employees who have already received the vaccine, although she could not release names or the number of employees who have been vaccinated due to privacy concerns.
Gov. Ned Lamont has said state officials believe they are on target to complete vaccinating all eligible people in that phase with two doses by the end of January.
Vanderslice noted that on Tuesday, Jan. 5, the governor’s administration is expected to better define which categories of people will be vaccinated in Phase 1.b. and Phase 1.c., and how the vaccine will be administered, especially for eligible members of the public who are not employed by the town or by a healthcare or congregate facility.
Those phases are expected to be completed between January and May. By June, the state will move into Phase 2, during which the vaccine will be provided to the general population.
“People should expect to receive the vaccine at that point based on how they would normally receive a flu vaccine,” Vanderslice explained, which includes through medical providers, CVS and Walgreen’s pharmacies, and clinics.
How the Town Manages Its Vaccine Responsibilities
The CDC has a vaccination administration management system (VAMS) that the town is eligible to use. VAMS is an online tool that helps manage vaccine administration from the time the vaccine arrives at a clinic/administration location to when it is administered to the recipient.
The system is a web-based platform and can send vaccine data to the corresponding Immunization Information System, and allows providers to fulfill all federal data and reporting and storage requirements at the CDC level.
According to Gioffre, who is overseeing the town’s implementation of COVID vaccines, the town is participating as part of a highly coordinated effort on the part of the federal government to keep track of every single vaccine dose.
“The CDC and other federal agencies need real time data on the early mass COVID vaccination administration, and Operation Warp Speed is expecting dose level accountability. So, basically from the time the vaccine leaves the manufacturer until it’s potentially unused as returned. The CDC developed VAMS to meet this need,” Grioffre explained.
Employers like the Town of Wilton upload names of employees eligible for Phase 1.a into the VAMS program. In addition, clinics like the Visiting Nurses and Hospice of Fairfield County A would register their clinics, check in their recipients, document and track the vaccine administration, and monitor vaccine inventory levels–all on VAMS.
Vaccine recipients themselves would could log into VAMS to register for vaccine clinics, find a clinic location, schedule the vaccination, potentially schedule a second dose if required, and then obtain proof of vaccination.
Gioffre said that the Town of Wilton has uploaded to VAMS approximately 74 eligible individuals–police and fire department employees–who are eligible for Phase 1.a. In addition, the Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps (WVAC) has uploaded its own staff (60 to 70 people) to VAMS.
Once employees are uploaded to VAMS, they automatically get a VAMs registration email and activate their account in the system by providing demographics and medical history information.
At that point through VAMS they are able to search for clinics anywhere in Connecticut, they can schedule their appointments, cancel or reschedule their appointments as needed, get their second doses and get their vaccination certificates.
“The feedback [from employees] we’ve had so far is that it’s fairly easy to use to register and to find appointments and go through the process,” Gioffre added.
According to Gioffre, the town has only received information from the State Department of Public Health about using VAMS for Phase 1.
Encouraging Residents about Vaccines
Vanderslice made several comments she hoped residents would hear.
“I think there’s an important thing for the public to know, that this vaccine does not have the virus itself, unlike other vaccines that you might have received, there’s no live virus. This is a different type of virus, it’s called an mRNA virus. So I think that’s important for people to know it doesn’t interact with your DNA in any way,” she said.
Along those same lines, the vaccine won’t cause a positive COVID test result. “The vaccine is causing you to build up antibodies. So you could test positive for the antibody test.”
She encouraged her fellow BOS members to communicate to residents one other important fact.
“I think the thing that people worry about the most is taking in the live virus. It’s important to communicate. If people ask you questions, it’s important,” she said, adding, “No live virus–you’re not going to get the virus from having this [vaccine].”
Vanderslice’s presentation also pointed out that there are normal side effects, such as fever, after vaccination. These side effects are signs that the body is building immunity.
In addition, it will take a few weeks for the body to build immunity after vaccination. A person could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and still get sick. This is because the vaccine has not had enough time to provide protection.
Vanderslice was eager for residents to understand one other point.
“The other important thing to remember is that the vaccine is just one component to stop the pandemic. The vaccine will protect you. If you do contract the virus, it will reduce your outcome, but you can still pass along the virus. So it’s important even after people have been [vaccinated] that they continue to follow the protocols and that we all continue to follow the protocols,” she said, which include:
- Cover nose and mouth with a mask
- Avoid close contact. Maintain social distancing
- Clean and disinfect
- Wash hands