Staff inside a mobile COVID-19 vaccination unit began administering doses Monday in Connecticut as part of a 60-day effort to reach as many people as possible living in the state's socially vulnerable neighborhoods and to improve vaccination rates in targeted municipalities.
About 200 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine were expected to be administered on Monday at Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, the state's largest city which currently has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Connecticut. Officials plan to ramp up that amount to about 400 doses a day, ultimately vaccinating about 3,400 people in Bridgeport over the next 10 days as the mobile unit visits five locations, including a public housing community.
Ultimately, the FEMA van will visit 17 different locations in Connecticut over the 60-day period. After Bridgeport, it's next scheduled to be parked at the New Haven Green.
“It means a lot to the people in Bridgeport. But (also) I believe in cities across the country, sometimes feeling not first in line, frankly, a lot of times felt to be last in line (for services)," said Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, a Democrat. “But today, this is not just a statement in words. This is a statement, an action.”
Besides the new FEMA mobile unit, other mobile vaccination units have already been deployed around the state, including ones operated by Hartford Healthcare, to complement the numerous fixed vaccination sites in operation.
“We can’t expect people to come to our locations,” said Hartford Healthcare President Jeffrey Flaks. “We have to bring the vaccine where people are.”
Hartford Healthcare, UConn Health, Griffin Health and Trinity Health of New England will provide staffing for the FEMA mobile unit while the Connecticut National Guard and municipal employees will provide non-clinical staffing. The unit is equipped to administer all three FDA-approved vaccines.
Paul Ford, acting regional administrator for FEMA, said Connecticut was the first to get a mobile unit because it provided a plan for using it over the 60-day period. U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn. said the state's congressional delegation, which submitted the grant request application through a competitive process, plans to seek a second mobile unit to come to Connecticut for another 60 days.
Hayes said the van will be able to serve urban communities where there are language barriers as well as rural farming communities where the nearest health care facility is many miles away. At the same time, she predicted it will “help restore confidence” because families will be able to get vaccinated together.