'A very good day': Hundreds turn out to Danbury Fair mall's mass vaccination site

Photo of Currie Engel

DANBURY — As cars rolled into the Danbury Fair mall Thursday afternoon, nurses ducked out of gray trailers set up in the Lord & Taylor parking lot to administer COVID-19 vaccines to their drivers. The event marked the opening of the state’s newest mass vaccination site, run jointly by the Community Health Center Inc. and Nuvance Health.

In four hours, they vaccinated around 300 people, according to Amy Taylor, the health center’s vice president for Connecticut’s western region.

Once the site starts operating full time, they can vaccinate up to 600 people per day, with hopes to eventually increase that number to around 1,000 per day.

It worked systematically: Cars pulled up through one of the lanes, nurses administered the vaccine through open windows and doors, and the National Guard directed traffic. After the inoculation, cars drove straight ahead to park and wait the requisite 15 minutes to ensure no bad reactions to the vaccine. Two lanes were set aside for those who needed to complete a 30-minute oberservation due to their medical histories.

As the clinic continued, more cars trickled in from the parking garage, where they had been checked in for their appointments and completed a questionnaire. People came from all over — Danbury, Redding, Westport, Brookfield and New Milford — some with their spouses and friends.

Despite some initial disorganization at check-in that led to a Brookfield couple waiting more than an hour for their shots, the clinic appeared to run smoothly.

Pete and Kristi McPadden said all things considered, their vaccinations went well.

“We know it’s day one, right, so it’s an organic thing. They’re setting it up today,” said Pete McPadden, a 56-year-old contractor.

“I’m sure they’ll iron out the kinks in the beginning, but you know, we figure we got our shot from start to finish in an hour, so I don’t think that’s bad,” said Kristi McPadden, 55, who works for the town of Brookfield.

Taylor said some issues arose at the start of the clinic due to some technical issues with check-in, but that the team is learning and adjusting to improve the process. She said since the Vaccine Administration Management System, doesn’t allow them to test certain functions and procedures before going live, they were learning on the fly Thursday.

“Most platforms have a test environment that VAMS does not, so you open and you hope that things work,” Taylor said.

Other than minor glitches, no major issues were reported.

“Every first day of anything there’s some bumps in the road, but the team is really strong here and we’re learning through the day,” Taylor said. “All things considered it was a very, very good day.”

Looking ahead

By adding weekends and possibly extending hours, staffing and car lanes, the mass vaccination site could ramp up the number of doses administered per day, and they will continue operating without any end date in sight, according to Taylor .

Nuvance has been vaccinating people at Danbury Hospital, and are manning the mall site in tandem. But after March 19, they will fully transition their operations to the mall, according to Dawn Myles, vice president of Population Health Operations for Nuvance Health.

Nuvance will continue with vaccination appointments at the hospital through March 19.

Since Dec. 15, Nuvance has administered about 25,000 vaccinations at the hospital, and more than 40,000 across all Nuvance facilities in the state, Myles said. She said they’ve sometimes done more than700 vaccines per day at the hospital. Now, they’re bringing this manpower to the mall.

For a three-week period, about 200 patients who have received their first shot at Danbury Hospital will receive a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at the mall, Myles said, but otherwise the site will only administer Moderna.

While Monday saw a rush to make vaccine appointments among those 55 and older in Connecticut, some remain vaccine-hesitant, said Myles.

In response, Nuvance is trying to educate the wary, posting information on its website, and reaching out to those uncertain about the shot.

“These people are wanting it,” she said of the cars in line Thursday, “but there’s still people that are not sure.”