In the shadow of Rentschler Field in East Hartford a 10-lane COVID-19 vaccination clinic opened Monday, January 18 to vaccinate eligible individuals in Phase 1a and 1b by appointment only. It is Connecticut’s largest drive-through clinic and is administered by Community Health Center, Inc. Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org
An electronic sign directs people to an area to wait if having an adverse reaction to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Connecticut’s largest drive-through vaccination clinic administered by Community Health Center, Inc. Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org

With ambitious plans of vaccinating 7,000 to 10,000 people each week, organizers of a massive inoculation effort at the former Pratt & Whitney airport in East Hartford opened the sprawling operation Monday to the first of what is expected to be hundreds of thousands of people in the coming months.

The “soft” opening was expected to draw 450 to 500 residents receiving their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Cars idled on the old runway Monday as eager employees directed them to the proper lanes. As the enterprise ramps up, organizers expect to vaccinate 1,000 or more people a day at the East Hartford site.

“It did not hurt,” said 93-year-old Irene Bedard, who received her shot just after 10 a.m. She was driven by her daughter, Joan Rogers.

“We’ve been trying to keep her safe, and this will make it a lot easier,” Rogers said. “I’ll be more relieved after the second dose. We’re just hoping there are no side effects.”

Jack Hilditch, 76, was asked to stick around for 30 minutes after receiving his vaccine because he has a drug allergy. Medical staff were on hand in case anything went wrong.

“They came out and gave me the injection,” the Manchester resident said. “It was painless. My appointment was actually at 10:20, but I was finished by 10:19. You can’t ask for more efficiency than that.”

Hilditch said he had trouble locating the entrance at first. Organizers acknowledged they are still getting the site fully up and running. A more expansive schedule of appointments was planned for Tuesday.

Here’s what to know about the new vaccine location:

LPN Lizmary Reyes gives John Cormier, of Norwich, his first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a new 10-lane drive-up vaccination clinic. Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org

Who qualifies?

Right now, only frontline health care workers, first responders and residents 75 and older can sign up for an appointment at the East Hartford site. As the state receives more supply of the COVID-19 vaccine, organizers will broaden that population to include teachers and other school employees, grocery store workers, people ages 65 to 74 and residents 16 to 64 who have underlying conditions outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (including cancer, chronic kidney disease and Down Syndrome). In a separate but parallel effort, state officials say they will be sending health care teams to prisons and psychiatric hospitals, which are also in this phase of the vaccine rollout.

Valerie Faiella, RN, takes information from Alan Miller, 78, of Marlborough before giving him his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org

How do I sign up?

The state has launched a website where qualifying residents can make an appointment and get the latest information. Appointments can be made online by filling out a form in the Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS). People without access to a computer may call 877-918-2224 to schedule a vaccination. Only people with appointments may enter the site; those without will be turned away.

Madeline Fall, 25, of Vernon, receives the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine from Lizmary Reyes, LPN, at Connecticut’s largest drive-through vaccination clinic. Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org

Where do I go?

The site is located at 12 Runway Road in East Hartford. There are 10 runway lanes at the old Pratt & Whitney airport dedicated to the effort – six for people who signed up through the VAMS system and four for residents who scheduled their appointments by phone. The drive-through clinic is near the Rentschler Field food bank and testing center.

A health care worker fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org

What happens when I get there?

Workers with iPads will greet people who arrive in their cars. Residents who sign up through VAMS will receive a Quick Response code, and staff will identify them by that code. People who schedule their appointments by phone will be identified by name and the time of the appointment. Patients are directed to a lane and pull up alongside a temporary building, where a medical worker will administer the vaccine. People are asked to roll down their window and roll up their sleeve.

Connie French, of Vernon, turns her head away as Community Health Centers worker Nadya Gonzalez gives her the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org

What happens next?

Workers will place markers on every car — on the hood for persons with allergies and on the roof for those without allergies. If a person has no allergies, they are required to wait 15 minutes (in case of an adverse reaction). Those with allergies must wait 30 minutes.

People with allergies are asked to park in a gravel lot off to the side of the runway, where staff will check in on them. Residents without allergies are asked to drive slowly down the length of the runway; they can idle at the end until the time is up. If a person starts to feel unwell, they are asked to put on their hazard lights. A medical worker will run to the car.

A health care worker with Community Health Center, Inc. prepares to give the Pfizer vaccine to a client. Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org

How do I make an appointment for a second shot?

People who sign up by phone will have both appointments scheduled at once. Those who sign up through VAMS will receive an email alert reminding them they need to book their second appointment online.

In the shadow of Rentschler Field in East Hartford, a 10-lane COVID-19 vaccination clinic opened Monday. Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org

When is the East Hartford site open?

The drive-through clinic will be open five days during its first week of operation, then seven days a week after that. The hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Organizers said the clinic will be open later once the days get lighter in the afternoon.

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Jenna CarlessoHealth Reporter

Jenna is CT Mirror’s Health Reporter, focusing on health access, affordability, quality, equity and disparities, social determinants of health, health system planning, infrastructure, processes, information systems, and other health policy. Before joining CT Mirror Jenna was a reporter at The Hartford Courant for 10 years, where she consistently won statewide and regional awards. Jenna has a Master of Science degree in Interactive Media from Quinnipiac University and a Bachelor or Arts degree in Journalism from Grand Valley State University.

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