Hundreds vaccinated in Hartford against COVID-19 in walk-up clinic aimed at overcoming registration barriers

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Rebecca Lurye, Hartford Courant
·4 min read
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When Edson Ramos read the city was holding its first walk-up, residents-only COVID-19 vaccine clinic Thursday, he thought of one of the barbers at his Park Street shop.

Ramos, 48, knew that Wilfredo Rosario, who does not speak English, had tried and failed several times to schedule an appointment since the 60-year-old became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine earlier this month. So on Thursday, Ramos decided to sacrifice a couple of business hours to close La Favorite Barber Shop so they could get their shots together.

They were among several hundred Hartford residents who sidestepped the crush of appointment requests and inquiries that came with Connecticut making the COVID-19 vaccine available to everyone 16 and up Thursday.

“We figure we’re working with the public, we take all the precautions and we’re doing everything we can, but we’ve got to take care of ourselves, too,” Ramos said as he and Rosario waited their turns for the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, standing in a long line that stretched through the Charter Oak Marketplace on Flatbush Avenue.

“We’re going right back after this,” Ramos said.

The city advertised it would have about 200 vaccines, but actually accommodated more as the line kept growing at the pop-up clinic, the first in a series of no-appointment vaccination events organized by the city.

Clinic staff also sent some of the vaccine hopefuls home after scheduling them for appointments later this week and next, including dozens of Trinity College students who turned up to the event.

The goal of the walk-up clinics is to expand access to the vaccine to city residents, particularly those who face barriers to scheduling an appointment, such as not speaking English or lacking Internet access.

“We’ve seen troubling disparities (in vaccination rates) among communities of color,” said Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, who was also vaccinated Thursday morning. “We are trying to do everything we can to close that gap. We have a long, long way to go.”

Thursday’s crowd also included many older residents who have been eligible for the vaccine for weeks but never managed to secure an appointment.

One 71-year-old woman, a South End resident who declined to give her name, said she gave up trying to find information online and couldn’t figure out how to sign up for the shot.

“I’m way past due,” she said. “It got to the point where I got so frustrated, I can’t even tell you what I did.”

Then on Wednesday, she mentioned her plight to a neighbor and the other woman gave her a direct number to call the city’s health department. They quickly called her back and told her about the walk-up event.

The city has also been working its way down a call list of residents who signed up to be contacted when appointments were available. A number of people who turned out Thursday had been pleasantly surprised the day before when they got that much-awaited call.

Rachel Taylor, 40, and Joe Linhart, 39, got theirs as they were getting their kids ready for dinner Wednesday afternoon. The city staffer told them about a 24-hour “Vax-A-Thon” Trinity Health of New England is holding April 9-10 at the Artists Collective on Albany Avenue.

But when Taylor saw something on Facebook about the walk-up clinic, she decided they would give it a shot. Now they can cancel their other appointments.

“I didn’t want to wait,” said Taylor, who’s looking forward to the coming months when she can have friends over to her house again.

Emilly-Beth Savage, 36, prepared for her first day of eligibility by signing up for all the websites and apps where people can make vaccine appointments. She hoped to score one in the morning and then drive by the residents-only clinic to see if it was worth the wait.

Instead, “it opened up and bam, everything fills up,” said Savage, whose long hair was braided with a bright blue ribbon. “Now this is Plan A.”

“I’m glad I came an hour early because otherwise I’d be at the end of the line now,” she added.

She was nearing the front by about 2:30 p.m., just as it started to drizzle.

“If I need to, I’ll go get an umbrella out of the car,” the next person in line, 49-year-old Damaine Woodfork, said with a smile.

Woodfork got let off work early from Simoniz Garage, where he details cars, to get the shot.

At 3 p.m., with three hours left in the clinic, Savage emerged from the white, canvas tent where the freshly vaccinated were made to sit and relax for 15 minutes.

“I’m sore, but happy,” she said. As for feeling any different, like she’s on the other side, “I think that’ll set in in a couple days.”

Rebecca Lurye can be reached at rlurye@courant.com.