Vaccination appointments canceled at Northampton regional site because of supply shortage


Staff Writer
Published: 3/1/2021 9:17:07 PM

NORTHAMPTON — City resident Joan Rutstein just turned 73 and was thrilled to have her first COVID-19 vaccination appointment scheduled for March 1 at the regional clinic in Northampton.

Getting the appointment, she said, was like “hitting the lottery.”

“I can’t explain to you how we felt when we were able to get appointments at the Senior Center,” she said.

But on Friday, Rutstein was notified that her appointment was being canceled, which city officials say is because of a lack of vaccine.

“It’s just not right,” Rutstein said, noting that her cousin, who had heart issues at the beginning of the pandemic, died from COVID-19.

“I also have several co-morbidity issues,” she said. “I’m really worried.”

Northampton has had a vaccination clinic for the county and it teamed up with Amherst to establish a regional vaccination clinic that planned to open officially Monday. Northampton is the lead community and the clinic was set up to give vaccines to any Massachusetts resident who qualifies under state guidelines.

“Appointments were canceled because Northampton Health Department did not receive its vaccine supply from the state,” Mayor David Narkewicz said in a statement Monday. “It is extremely frustrating and disheartening for our clinic staff and volunteers and especially upsetting for those who had appointments canceled.”

The state Department of Public Health did not reply to a request for comment Monday.

Vaccination clinics scheduled for late last week, Saturday and Monday were canceled, said Merridith O’Leary, the city’s public health director. Some were scheduled to get a second dose, and some were first doses, she said.

“We didn’t get the vaccine that we ordered,” O’Leary said.

The department is prioritizing rescheduling appointments for second doses and O’Leary said everyone who got a first dose from the Northampton Health Department will get their second dose. More vaccine is on its way, and when local health officials get an estimated time of arrival, they will contact people to reschedule their second dose, O’Leary said.

“I got confirmation it’s coming, I just don’t have a delivery time yet,” she said.

O’Leary said it’s not yet clear if the vaccine supply issues will affect appointments scheduled later in the week.

“They may, because we have to prioritize second doses,” she said. “If we had to cancel any appointment, we would notify everyone by a robocall.”

The regional site has the capacity to administer more than 5,000 vaccines, O’Leary said, but the clinic is not getting anywhere near that amount.

Call for patience

“We’re ready. Our site is ready to be doing that but we’re not getting the vaccines. It’s a state problem,” she said. “It seems like everything that goes wrong we’re getting blamed for. I cannot control the website. I cannot control how much vaccine we’re getting and when we get it. All I can control is getting it in the arms of people as soon as we can get it.”

O’Leary asked that people be patient and call on their representatives in the Legislature to get more vaccine out to the western part of the state.

“Again, if we were given the tools we would get the job done,” she said.

The cancellations have left people feeling frustrated.

“When I got the appointment I was ecstatic — the end is in sight! The light at the end of the tunnel,” Patti Spawn wrote in an email. “Well, the light was shut off. Rug pulled out from under me. Back to trying to find an opening somewhere, with nothing to be found.”

Spawn lives in eastern Massachusetts, and said she came to Northampton for the vaccine because she couldn’t get an appointment closer to her and she grew up in Northampton.

Rutstein hasn’t heard about her appointment being rescheduled, and she is looking for another one, but there aren’t many other options nearby. She’s looked at CVS, which she said is booked.

“Eastfield Mall, that’s like the other end of the world for me and for a lot of other people,” she said of the mass vaccination site in Springfield. Booking appointments is “pitting people against each other — who has the fastest internet, who’s tech-savvy … I have nobody to help me. I don’t have high-speed internet.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at
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