By Alison Sullivan

More than 200 Princeton, Mass. residents have been vaccinated against COVID-19 so far under the joint efforts of the town Fire Department and Board of Health. 

“We’re protecting people from an invisible, silent enemy,” said Princeton Fire Chief John Bennett. “The Board of Health has been driving this very well, and we’ve been supplying logistics and passion.”

Even more residents have likely been vaccinated through other sites across Massachusetts, though exact numbers are not sent to the Princeton BOH. Under new state regulations, vaccine administration has shifted from towns to mass vaccination sites and retail pharmacies.

Princeton, along with several towns across central Massachusetts, originally partnered with the town of Rutland to secure a supply of vaccines before new state regulations changed the way vaccines must be distributed, according to Terri Longtine from the Princeton Board of Health. 

“If I wanted to order vaccines just for Princeton I wouldn’t get it,” Longtine said.

Both supply and logistical issues have caused delays in the national rollout of the vaccine, but Princeton has already been able to vaccinate all of its first responders and two thirds of the population of people age 75 and older so far. 

Well before there was a COVID-19 vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Longtine and her colleagues worked to ensure the town would be ready the moment one became available. 

According to Longtine, she and her colleagues have been preparing for various emergency scenarios for years. This has included procuring supplies such as personal protective equipment, rehearsing emergency responses to various scenarios during annual drills, and working with a regional health coordinator to ensure Princeton is up to date on current best practices.

Using funding from the CARES Act, Princeton had to purchase a specialty freezer to store vials of the Pfizer vaccine at the appropriate temperature (between 36 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit), software to register appointments and to allow the state to monitor vaccine expiration dates, and a hydroxyl generator that helps reduce the transmission of COVID-19 significantly during clinics. The Princeton Board of Health also had to register with the state to hold clinics when they were still able to, and underwent training on the various new softwares. 

Bill Dino, Captain and Advanced Life Support Coordinator for the Princeton Fire Department, handled some of the medical aspects of the clinics Princeton held. This included mixing vaccines, and teaching emergency medical technicians and medics how to administer shots using oranges for practice. 

Additionally, Doctor Catherine Jones, an emergency medicine specialist, was available to administer shots at these clinics, along with several nurses. Those who received a vaccine waited at the clinic for an extra 15 minutes to ensure they did not have adverse reactions. According to Bennett, no such reactions occurred. 

This herculean effort resulted in fast and efficient vaccine clinics that outpaced the time standards of Fenway Park’s mass vaccination site, according to Bennett. 

“We got it down to 45 seconds per patient. We were able to do 90 patients in an hour.”

While the town of Princeton is not able to vaccinate residents directly anymore, James Hillis from the Board of Health would still like people to use them as a resource for information. “Anybody that can post on social media can post anything,” he said. “We tell people if you want official information on what’s known, come to our website [https://www.town.princeton.ma.us/board-health] or go to mass.gov. 

Bennett stressed the importance of vaccinating residents of Princeton as quickly as possible as they become eligible. “You’re affecting the people who live in the town with you,” he said. “When you look at the numbers, one person in the matter of a week or two can infect over 48 people. The rate of infection is exponential. For us, every person we vaccinate we save upwards of 40 other people.”

For the first responders who have battled against the pandemic for a year, the prospect of vaccines comes with added relief. 

“I feel a bit safer moving forward and getting out of this COVID pandemic,” said Princeton Fire Captain Zach Algarin. “It’s been a lot on everybody who is a first responder in this entire area and all over the country. It’s a nice sign that we’re moving forward and we’ll be out of this sooner than later.

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