'Vaccination whirlwind': Partnership expands Milford COVID clinic

MILFORD — Irene Ramos can’t wait until she can go grocery shopping again.

The 88-year-old, who has been the organist at Christ Redeemer church since Richard Nixon’s first term, was among the first people to receive a COVID-19 vaccination Thursday at the Parsons Government Center in Milford. The day was the first of a new partnership between the city and Bridgeport Hospital/Yale New Haven Health to expand the clinic to seven days a week.

“It’s the little things that I miss, like grocery shopping, but that’s a small price to pay for staying healthy,” Ramos said.

For the past 10 months, grocery shopping has been a two-woman job for Ramos, as she rides to the store with one of her daughters, then sits in the car with her cellphone at the ready.

“I keep it on so they can call and tell me if they’re out of something, or if this is on sale,” she said.

Mayor Ben Blake said he was also counting the days until daily life could return to a pre-COVID normal. The expanded vaccination schedule was a big step toward that goal, he said.

“Yale New Haven Health really stepped up,” Blake said. “Our focus now is getting needles into arms of everyone so this pandemic ends. We will be a seven-day vaccination whirlwind.”

Blake said the Parsons Center vaccination clinic had been operating on Wednesdays and Friday afternoons, administering about 400 vaccines each week for the past two months.

“We’re using school nurses to give the shots, and they’re available on Wednesdays because that’s when the schools are teaching remotely,” he said.

The addition of Yale staff means the clinic now can operate from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week, as long as supplies of vaccine are available. Bridgeport Hospital’s Chief Medical Officer Victor Morris said the combined hospital and city staffers could deliver up to 1,700 vaccinations each week.

“Right now, we have four vaccinators, and each of them can handle one person every 10 minutes,” he said.

But the clinic, set up in the center’s gym, could easily handle up to 10 vaccination stations, he said.

“As the supply of vaccines increases, we’ll fill this place up,” he said. “When we get there, we’ll be giving 600, 700 vaccines every day.”

Even with only four vaccinators on duty, though, hospital Chief Operations Officer Pam Scagliarini said the staff had 253 vaccinations scheduled for the first day and about 1,000 more over the next week. System-wide, she said Yale New Haven vaccinated about 48,000 people at about a dozen sites across the state, including locations in Greenwich, New Haven and New London.

At the clinic, which is accepting medical personnel and those 75 and older, patients are given a brief health scan when they check in. After receiving their shot, they are escorted to a waiting area where they spend 15 minutes under the watchful eyes of Maryellen Kosturko, senior vice president of patient care, to ensure there are no adverse reactions.

“It’s very rare that anyone has any kind of reaction,” Kosturko said.

By 10:30 a.m. Thursday, she estimated she had seen about 100 people receive their shot and the only reaction was one person who complained of a mildly upset stomach.

“After a few minutes, he said it had passed and that he was good to go,” she said.

While the recipients are watching the clock for their 15-minute wait to elapse, another hospital staffer visits each person to schedule their appointment for the follow-up shot in about three weeks.

Ramos said she was surprised how easily the injection had gone, and was excited to see a vaccination center open locally.

“I barely noticed,” she said. “I’m just happy I didn’t have to go all the way to New London like a friend of mine did.”

Scagliarini said she had seen a similar reaction in her own family when local vaccination centers opened.

“My parents live in Ohio, and they called me to say that a center had opened near them and that they were excited to go get their shot,” she said. “I live in Milford, and that’s when I said, ‘We have to open one in Milford.’”

Eligible residents can register for a vaccination appointment through the state website, portal.ct.gov and searching COVID-19 vaccinations.