As the COVID-19 vaccination effort across the country continues to be plagued by issues, some small towns are finding success in grassroots inoculation efforts that rely on a proactive approach to getting residents vaccinated.
On any other day, Melissa Nadeu would be answering calls at the 911 dispatch center in Vernon, Connecticut. But these days, she's volunteering her voice and her time to help seniors get vaccinated.
"I enjoy this so much. It’s such a different part of the community," Nadeu said.
When this town of 29,000 first start rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine, it quickly became clear the internet wasn't going to cut it for most residents over 75.
"They rolled out this computer program for an age group that doesn’t even use computers," Nadeu explained.
So, every day, Nadeu and a small army of volunteers are at a pop-up call center inside the Vernon Public Library. They do everything from answering people's questions about the vaccine to putting people on waitlists, even helping arrange rides through a partnership with Uber Health. Oftentimes, though, Nadeu has just found that being a comforting voice on the other end of the phone speaks volumes to people confused by the vaccination process.
"I think having a phone number they can call and speak to a live person immediately, instantly calms them down," she added.
These kinds of grassroots efforts to reach out to residents proactively are having an immediate impact on getting vaccination shots out. To make residents more comfortable when getting their vaccine, the town is using long-established gathering places like the VFW to host vaccination clinics.
Recently, nearly 50 veterans received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine inside the VFW Hall.
One of the people getting their vaccine was 68-year-old Dennis Nevins. A lifelong Vernon resident, Nevins typically came to the VFW to sing the National Anthem during special events. But on this day, he was here in hopes of turning a corner on the pandemic.
"What I’m looking most forward to is everyone looking, feeling at ease," Nevins said as he sat on a folding chair during the mandatory 15 post-vaccine observation time.
What they're doing in Vernon seems to be working. At a time when so many states are struggling to get vaccines rolled out, Connecticut continues to rank in the top five states in the nation for vaccine distribution.
Town Administrator Michael Purcaro hopes other communities across the country see the success Vernon is having with this grassroots effort and use it as a blueprint for their own success.
"We know our communities best. We know how to reach the hardest to reach, most vulnerable populations," Purcaro said about the town's inoculation efforts.
"If we can do it in Vernon, so can every other community across America. We have a model that works because it’s the community coming together. We’re utilizing all of our partners," he added.
At a time of so much confusion and frustration, they're measuring success here one call and one shot at a time.