'Everybody is excited to be part of ending this': Fairfield administers COVID vaccines

FAIRFIELD — The vaccination process is well underway in Fairfield, with healthcare professionals from the town and at local convalescent hospitals administering doses of the vaccine to more than 1,000 people already.

“The plan has always been that local health departments would be a part of the effort to vaccinate individuals,” said Sands Cleary, the director of Fairfield’s Health Department. “We started the process months ago of applying to the state to become a vaccinator.”

Cleary pointed out that the Fairfield Health Department does large-scale vaccinations every year, adding it benefited the department to know how to organize a vaccine clinic. He said the department had to learn an entirely new system created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in order to administer the vaccine.

Once the town was approved to be a COVID-19 vaccination provider, the state placed an order for the department through the federal government and the vaccine was shipped.

At the Carolton Chronic and Convalescent Hospital, a 229-bed rehabilitation and convalescent hospital in Fairfield, residents and staff have also been given the vaccine.

The Carolton’s vaccine

The Carolton was among the first healthcare facilities in the state to receive and administer the Pfizer COVID vaccine to both patients and staff, according to a release. The Carolton said all eligible patients and the majority of the staff received their first dose of the two-dose treatment on Dec. 23 and approximately 28 days after that.

Professionals from CVS came to the facility to administer the shots, the Carolton said.

“This is an emotional day for our Carolton team,” Carmen Tortora, Carolton’s president and CEO, said in the release. “Our nursing staff, rehabilitation team and other caregivers have been on the front line caring for our patients every day in the middle of this pandemic.”

Tortora said the staff were not only their patients’ caregivers, but also their families’ caregivers because of the visiting restrictions in place.

“And I know they’ve sacrificed time with their own families,” he said. “They’ve truly been heroes. This vaccine is essential to allow us to safely take care of our patients and ourselves. It’s the best Christmas present we could ask for.”

It continues to restrict visitors to the facility, has deep cleaning procedures in place and requires people wear masks and personal protective equipment. There is also a special COVID wing for patients who test positive for the virus.

“We recognize that our patient population is vulnerable, and we are doing everything we can to protect them and our Carolton team,” Tortora said. “Our employees receive COVID 19 tests twice a week so we can keep the spread of the virus under control. This alone is a significant financial investment each week, but it’s essential for everyone’s safety and well-being.”

Fairfield Health Department

Cleary said the department gave the first dose of the Moderna vaccine to 420 people at the first clinic on Dec. 23. Two additional clinics were hosted on Dec. 29 and 30, bringing the total to 1,236 people receiving a dose so far.

“We have another 924 spots available this week for vaccination,” Cleary said on Monday. “That’s not necessarily that we’ll give all those out, but that’s how much that we’ve been provided of that vaccine. We’re trying to get the word out there to fill those clinics up.”

Cleary said about 12 health department employees operate the clinic on any given day it is open, noting they have all been trained to do so.

Around 28 days from the first clinic, Cleary said, the department will transition to giving people the second dose of the vaccine. This is part of an effort to vaccinate all Phase 1A individuals, which consists of high-risk health care workers and medical first responders.

Cleary did not want to disclose the location of the clinic in order to help ensure people receive vaccines with their appropriate group. He encouraged all Phase 1A eligible individuals to work through their employer to sign up for a vaccination employment.

“We’ve got open appointments, time slots available in our clinics this week,” Cleary said. “We would like the maximum amount and fill every single one, which we’ve done up until now.”

Cleary said said the new system deals with logistics approving eligible people, scheduling their appointments and noting their medical backgrounds, as well as managing inventory. He said it has been a little challenging to learn, but the department is getting the job done.

“We’re functional,” he said. “We’re doing it. It’s working. Every clinic we learn something new. It’s been going smoothly. We’re happy to have been able to vaccinate as many as we have so far, and we hope to be doing more as move forward.”

Cleary said the department’s staff and nurses were eager to be part of the first clinic and start the process of vaccination.

“Everybody is excited to be part of ending this — putting a nail in COVID and trying to end this pandemic,” he said. “We are happy to do it. We’re pushing to try and do as many as we can.”

joshua.labella@hearstmediact.com