Lake Placid vaccination clinic saves travel for many locals

Staff and volunteers from the Essex County Health Department host a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Crowne Plaza Resort in Lake Placid Thursday, March 18. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LAKE PLACID — Before the Essex County Health Department began offering COVID-19 vaccination clinics in various parts of the county in January, most eligible residents had to travel to the state point-of-dispensing (POD) sites in Potsdam or Plattsburgh.

The latest clinics open to the public were held at the Boquet Valley Central School building in Elizabethtown on Wednesday, March 24 and the Crowne Plaza Resort in Lake Placid on Thursday, March 18. Health department Program Coordinator Andrea Whitmarsh said residents appreciated the opportunity.

“I think they’re grateful that we, as a small and resource-strapped local health department, are able to travel around the county and bring vaccine closer to people where it’s more convenient, more accessible,” Whitmarsh said Monday, March 22.

The health department began its mobile vaccination clinics on Jan. 14 at Saranac Village at Will Rogers in Saranac Lake, giving residents and staff their first doses of the Moderna vaccine. They were back at Will Rogers four weeks later for the second dose.

Since then, the department has offered other closed-door clinics for essential workers at places such as the Moriah Central School and Lake Placid Volunteer Fire Department.

“We didn’t make a big announcement,” Whitmarsh said. “We didn’t put the links out to the public because we weren’t allowed to vaccinate just anyone.”

They were also getting limited doses of vaccines from the state at that time. Now they are getting more vaccines and can serve all of the eligible groups.

Other than earlier closed-door clinics, such as those from the health department and healthcare facilities, and at some pharmacies for older residents, many local residents eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine had to travel to state PODs at the Plattsburgh International Airport and SUNY Potsdam, sometimes having to schedule their appointments up to six weeks out.

That changed here when the Essex County Health Department offered its first vaccination clinic open to the public on Feb. 25 at North Country Community College in Saranac Lake. Those getting their first dose on that date received their second dose on Thursday, March 25.

“We really have done a great job in the North Country of getting those currently eligible people vaccinated, and we want to make sure that we’re continuing to roll it out to different groups,” Whitmarsh said.

The Lake Placid clinic was a prime example. The health department reached a wide variety of people.

“Overall, it was a great mix, which I was actually a little surprised with because I figured being in Lake Placid, we would have mostly that tourism industry employee. But it was really a lot of everyone,” Whitmarsh said.

The Crowne Plaza clinic saw people 60 years of age and older, people with underlying health conditions, workers from the local hospitality industry (including from the Crowne Plaza itself) and employees from government and nonprofit organizations. On Tuesday, March 23, the state lowered the age eligibility by 10 years, to New Yorkers 50 and older.

In all, the health department served 268 first doses at the Crowne Plaza, and they will administer second doses for those people at the same location on April 15.

The workforce at the clinic was part staff and part volunteer, with 35 people working in all, according to Whitmarsh. There were five paid staff from the health department and some employees from other departments in Essex County, including a deputy from the Sheriff’s Department taking the temperature of people arriving at the clinic. Most of the clinic’s workers, however, were volunteers from the Medical Reserve Corps.

“I don’t think we could have done this without them,” Whitmarsh said about the volunteers.

Established in 2007, the Essex County Medical Reserve Corps consists of trained healthcare professionals — including physicians, physician assistants, nurses, pharmacists, veterinarians and EMS professionals — and trained lay persons.

The process of getting a vaccination takes about 20 minutes from the time people arrive, get their temperature taken, check in, get a shot in the arm and rest (about 15 minutes) in case of adverse reactions.

The Crowne Plaza clinic was the first one Whitmarsh had been to, she said, and she thought it went well.

“There’s not a lot of headaches to it. Just come in and get it done,” Whitmarsh said. “One woman, when she was ready to leave, she was cheering, and everyone was clapping. It was a really amazing thing to be a part of because we all feel like this is the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s our way out of this.”

As of March 23, 20,340 vaccinations had been administered in Essex County, with 2,449 coming from the county health department.

Learn more about vaccination clinics and eligibility from the county online at http://www.co.essex.ny.us/health/make-an-appointment/.

Or check out the state website, https://am-i-eligible.covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/, to make a vaccine appointment at a state-run clinic. Also, people can contact their local pharmacies at Walgreens or Kinney Drugs, as they are now vaccinating more eligible groups than before.