PITTSFIELD — Berkshire hospital executives and public health officials have joined together to develop a streamlined vaccination plan for later phases of the rollout, which could see as many as 3,000 people vaccinated each day — if supplies become available.
Berkshire Health Systems and the Berkshire County Boards of Health Association say they are waiting on the state to approve their plan, which would employ the hospital system as a central distribution point. Community Health Programs has also partnered with the hospital system and public health officials on the effort.
The proposal comes just as Phase One draws to a close. Most eligible and willing recipients in this phase are expected to be vaccinated within a week.
“At the end of the day, this is about vaccinating as many people as possible,” said Darlene Rodowicz, executive vice president at BHS. “Not worrying about which agency is doing the vaccinations. So, we came together and said, ‘Instead of all of us getting our own allotments, why don’t we join forces and develop vaccination centers where we can be incredibly efficient?’ ”
The plan would not alter the vaccination timeline, nor would it change how people should expect to sign up when they are eligible.
But, health care leaders say it would ensure that every dose sent to Berkshire County is injected into someone’s arm as quickly and efficiently as possible. And they expect vaccine supply, not local capacity, to be the biggest factor limiting the pace of inoculations in upcoming phases.
Under the proposed plan, vaccine doses would be shipped to and stored by BHS. The hospital system and public health officials then would work together, along with other agencies and health providers, to staff at least three large-scale vaccination sites across the county, as well as some on-site clinics.
Just as with Phase One vaccinations, eligible recipients in upcoming phases will have access to sites in North, Central and South County.
Health officials say their idea is essentially to create the equivalent of “mass vaccination sites” that are planned for other parts of the state, except that local clinics likely will be restricted to people who live and work in Berkshire County.
Rodowicz estimated that each of the three primary sites easily could handle as many as 1,000 vaccinations per day. With consistent supply, she said, everyone in the county could receive their first dose in just six weeks. But, vaccine coordinators warned that such a rapid pace is unlikely, given that the county is dependent on deliveries from the state, which, in turn, has to rely on the federal government.
“The reality is, it’s gonna be a supply chain problem,” Rodowicz said.
The county currently has no estimates of how many doses it will receive at any given time. So far, Berkshire County has received more than 7,600 doses, of which at least 6,600 have been administered in total, according to state and local data. The vast majority have been first doses.
The groups organizing clinics and helping with the rollout so far include Northern Berkshire EMS, the Pittsfield Health Department and Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington, among others.
Though the state has not approved the BHS plan yet formally, health leaders are optimistic. They stressed that the separate vaccine providers have been collaborating throughout the process but have run into technical and logistical issues. So far, each agency has been required to request and receive doses separately, and there are complex procedures required to transfer doses among them.
Under the new plan, the county would function as one entity in the eyes of the state, splitting up different parts of the process. David Phelps, BHS president and CEO, said that health leaders have been trying to figure out how to work efficiently while following state regulations.
“What we’ve done here in the Berkshires is unique, in the way that our community has pulled together, right from the beginning [of the pandemic],” Phelps said. “The next big challenge is, how do you vaccinate the entire community? And how do you comply with the state, with what they’ve laid out as their priorities?”
State Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams, told The Eagle he and other lawmakers representing the area have advocated for the plan.
“You have to have the infrastructure ready for distribution,” Barrett said. “One of the most important players in all of this, and the delegation completely agreed, is Berkshire Health Systems.”