Great Barrington vaccination rates

Fairview Hospital pharmacist Stephen Bannon checks the dosage of a filled dose of vaccine drawn up by Kellie Buker, a pharmacy technician, at the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at W.E.B. Du Bois Regional Middle School in Great Barrington. New state data shows that well over half the population in Great Barrington and four nearby towns have had at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine.

GREAT BARRINGTON — Well over half of all residents in Great Barrington and four surrounding towns are inoculated with at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, surpassing the countywide and state vaccination rates.

Local health officials say clinics, and over-the-top efforts that include squeezing extra vaccine doses from vials and carting extra shots to restaurants for staffers or diners who were in need, likely pushed up the numbers.

As of May 18, 66 percent of all residents in Great Barrington, Alford, Egremont, Mount Washington and New Marlborough had received at least one shot, according to Massachusetts Department of Public Health data released Thursday.

Because of address and ZIP code crossover issues, the agency combines certain municipalities, and The Eagle made further groupings in the Great Barrington area to reduce inaccuracies.

Older people in this South County cohort have received the most shots; at least 95 percent of those age 75 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Those ages 30 to 49 with a first dose make up 89 percent of those vaccinated; 83 percent are 50 to 64. Just over half of those 16 to 29 have had at least one shot, and for 12- to 15-year-olds with a first dose, the rate hit 39 percent the week after federal approval of the Pfizer vaccine for this age group.

The trend of plummeting COVID-19 cases in the Berkshires is attributed by health officials, for the most part, to climbing inoculations. For weeks, local hospitals have reported few COVID-19 patients, and the positive test rate in most South County towns remains well below the 14-day state average of 1.21 percent. Great Barrington and Lenox are the only southern Berkshire towns to exceed that, at 1.42 percent and 1.47 percent, respectively, according to last week’s state data.

Countywide, 61 percent of residents have at least one dose; about half of all residents statewide fully are vaccinated.

In Great Barrington, the declining infection numbers are leading to a palpable sense of relief.

“I have a feeling that the vibe will be a little more relaxed going forward,” said Rebecca Jurczyk, the town’s health agent, who says she plans to initiate a discussion about current conditions at the upcoming Board of Health meeting.

Jurczyk said that virus-related complaints are an indicator of fear levels; she has received none since March. During the coronavirus pandemic, about three to five people per month called to complain, mostly about mask-wearing enforcement at local businesses.

Last week, 12 people in Great Barrington were considered COVID-positive. Most of those cases, Jurczyk said, were in the same household, and some were cases that had carried over from the previous week, when there were 14 total cases. These numbers are comparatively high, she added, since cases long have been less than 10 per week.

Draining the vials

Jurczyk attributes the climbing vaccine rate here to dynamic work by the Berkshire Vaccine Collaborative, which continues to hold biweekly clinics by appointment and walk-in at W.E.B. Du Bois Regional Middle School, and will hold another Wednesday.

Heather Barbieri, the collaborative’s South County leader, said community connections with providers like Volunteers in Medicine, and many phone calls, made for distribution of extra shots.

“When we had open slots, we didn’t just let them sit there,” she said, noting that she and nurses would travel around town with shots, sometimes giving them at places like Koi, a Chinese restaurant.

“I know that at Koi, they still had one employee who couldn’t get to our clinic — so we went,” she said. “When we were there, I just started asking people if they wanted it.”

Barbieri also said the group learned to squeeze an extra dose out of many vaccine vials.

“We were always giving a little more vaccine than our allotments,” she said.

Dr. Andrew Beckwith, a physician at Community Health Programs in Great Barrington, said that vaccination here also might have been nudged up by a significant number of new transplants from New York City who rushed to get vaccinated after beginning the pandemic “cooped up in their apartments with sirens wailing all night long.”

“I think it was very traumatizing,” he said, noting that many of his patients are these newcomers.

Beckwith says the dark days now appear to be in the rearview. It has been a month since he has had a patient test positive.

“There’s an optimism now that I haven’t seen until quite recently,” he said.

Staff reporter Francesca Paris contributed to this story.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or 413-329-6871. On Twitter @BE_hbellow.