By MICHAEL FORSTER ROTHBART • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Margaret Wolff was one of the lucky ones.
She was one of the first 310 members of the general public to receive their first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Bassett Hospital’s first public clinic Saturday, Jan. 30, at the Clark Sports Center.
For three weeks she’d tried to get a vaccine appointment. Some days she got online at 6 a.m., figuring she might find an available slot when few people were awake. She heard a rumor that the state Department of Health made appointments available at noon, so she logged in then, even though it was difficult to do so during work. Nothing was available.
Last Friday evening, a friend called to say there were open appointments at SUNY Polytechnic in Utica. She got right on her computer and tried for three hours. “It said they had appointments, but the website was down for maintenance,” she said. “I kept refreshing it ’til 9 o’clock and then I thought, ‘The heck with this, I’m just not going to do this,’” and went to bed.
At 1 in the morning, her dog woke her, and she decided to try once more. To her delight, she was immediately able to schedule a vaccination, for early March in Utica.
Saturday morning, her good luck continued. As she opened the shop she owns in Fly Creek, Heartwork Quilts & Fabrics, her first customer of the day told her there had been many cancellations for the Bassett-organized clinic in Cooperstown.
After a series of calls, Wolff was told if she pre-registered, if there was a dose available, and if she could come right away when called, she might be able to get vaccinated.
Midday, the phone rang. Ten minutes later, she walked into the Clark Sports Center gym, as the clinic was wrapping up.
She went through a temperature screening, registered, then got directed to a green folding chair at the back of the gym where she soon became the 310th and final person immunized that day. She described her relief: “I’ve had customers who have been in my store and called me the next day to say ‘I have COVID.’ And that’s scary.”
Bassett Pharmacy Director Kelly Rudd explained why Margaret was lucky.
The Moderna vaccine vials are each meant to hold 10 doses, she said, “but the manufacturers usually do give you a little bit of overfill. We switched to some finer needles, and that allowed us to really maximize – to really try to get every drop out.”
The FDA doesn’t allow vials to be combined, but if there is a complete extra dose, it can be disseminated. During the clinic, the Bassett pharmacists were able to squeeze out 10 extra doses, distributed to people who’d registered on a waiting list.
Be persistent, Rudd advised people trying to schedule appointments.
“We opened it up and in less than half an hour the initial slots were filled. But it has been changing all week. There were a number of people who booked and then cancelled, so those appointments were very fluid. Not a large number but enough,” she said. “People were still able to find appointments later on.”