With Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine expected to begin shipping next week, Massachusetts communities are gearing up to begin injections.
The massive planning effort to vaccinate Leominster's 43,000 residents from COVID-19, ironically, began well before the coronavirus was even on our radar.
"We did a tabletop exercise in December of 2019 for a pandemic, and even my volunteers here thought we were a little bit strange," said James LeBlanc, Leominster's director of emergency management.
But now LeBlanc says that routine run-through is paying off.
"I'm thinking, if we had 48 hours, and the staff was big enough and we're running six lanes through there, all one-way traffic, I think we can do it," said LeBlanc.
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Those plans call for use of the parking lot at the Mall at Whitney Field. About 70 volunteers have already tentatively signed up to administer the vaccine – including retired nurses, local family practice doctors and nurses in training from the program at Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School.
"It's lining up freezers, traffic management, traffic flow, public relations, getting necessary people trained," said Mayor Dean Mazzarella.
While the planning is similar in communities across Massachusetts, many smaller towns – like in the Merrimack Valley – are taking a regional approach.
"We came together, and we've reached out to the Boards of Health in each community," said Merrimack Fire Chief Larry Fisher.
Fisher says pooling resources and planning with five neighboring towns for some aspects of the vaccination process will help them free up other resources for a more targeted distribution.
"Merrimack has a population that's not very mobile," said Fisher. "It would be to our advantage and to their advantage to basically bring it to them or make it much closer than a regional solution."
Leominster city officials say that once they get the call, the vaccines are good to go for the public. They would move their mobile command unit to the mall and be ready to distribute vaccines within half a day.