DEVENS — A COVID-19 vaccination site will be opening in May in Devens, a first for the Nashoba Valley, and one that has been months in the making.
The site will be located at Clear Path for Veterans New England, 84 Antietam St., the site of the former Cutler Army Hospital. The site will be open to all state residents.
“After months of working alongside Representatives Sheila Harrington and Danillo Sena and Senator Jamie Eldridge and the rest of the Nashoba Valley legislative delegation, it’s wonderful to hear of the new regional vaccine site that will open in Devens,” state Rep. Jim Arciero said in a statement. “As we look to end the pandemic as soon, and as safely, as possible, it is vital for people to get vaccinated. Hopefully, the Devens regional site provides a valuable resource for those who have yet to be vaccinated and are looking to return to some form of normalcy and see loved ones again.”
The site, approved Tuesday night by the Baker-Polito administration, will provide a welcome relief for local politicians and their constituents, many of whom have been unable to drive to other sites in Lowell, Foxboro, Boston, Danvers or elsewhere in the state.
Although the site will be open to all Massachusetts residents, the area’s delegation is hopeful that partnerships with local Boards of Health and Councils on Aging may help Nashoba Valley residents get appointments. Towns’ Councils on Aging may also provide transportation to the site for seniors.
Eldridge said he had heard from town administrators and Council on Aging directors that seniors, those with serious health conditions and those with disabilities wanted a local site.
“We were just consistently reaching out to… the Department of Public Health,” he said. “You have 16 towns that are fully committed to dedicating town employees and volunteers, and there’s inequity. There’s a vaccination desert, if you will, in the Nashoba Valley, in North Central Mass., and the Devens site would be the best one to address those gaps.” He added that there are currently about 150 other regional site applications being considered.
Although the effort by local and state-level politicians stretched over months, Eldridge said Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders had told the group she “(wanted) to get to yes” on the site and had been supportive throughout the process.
Littleton Town Administrator Anthony Ansaldi said he was “frustrated” that, at one point, the entire Nashoba Valley, comprising 130,000 residents, received 100 vaccines, the same number received by Acton alone.
He added that he is “elated” about the vaccination site, and is ready for Littleton to lend a hand at the site through resources including the Fire Department, local paramedics, and the town’s Rotary Club. “We’re ready to answer the bell, and whatever that might be that they need from Littleton, we’ll provide that level of service assistance for the site,” he said. “We’re so grateful to our delegation for seeing it through and getting it approved on the state level. And now it’s now it’s time for reaction and planning.”
Sena, whose district includes Devens, said he had received countless emails from constituents asking him to sign them up for appointments, which he called “unacceptable.” He hopes this new site will make more appointments readily available for them.
Harrington, who led the charge on the effort, said that, inspired by a tip she heard at the nail salon, she reached out to retired Groton Police Chief Don Palma to handle the logistics of the site, an opportunity he took on without hesitation given his background in event planning.
He said he plans to rely “heavily” on volunteers from the Nashoba Valley towns for everything from vaccine administration to data entry and escorting seniors or others who need assistance into the site. “It’s been a little bit daunting, it was new to me, but it’s along the same lines of large-scale event planning,” he said of his duties.
Masy BioServices, a Pepperell-based company that specializes in medical storage and transportation, will be assisting with those aspects for the Nashoba Valley site, a service its owner, John Masiello, has offered to the state numerous times. After five and a half months of weekly calls into Gov. Baker’s office, Masiello gave up, so he said he’s excited to be able to help his community. He also offered to host a vaccination site at his facility before it was deemed to be too close to Lowell’s site.
Masy’s services will come in handy to store the Pfizer vaccine in particular, which requires temperatures of -70 degrees Celsius. “(Rep. Harrington) did a fantastic job of pulling. She’s got a lot on her plate, but she just kept pushing and pulling, and I’m excited to be part of it,” he said.
“When it’s all said and done, I think we are gonna have probably more people willing to help that we probably need, but that’s not a bad thing,” Harrington said. She attributes that willingness to help largely to the community-oriented nature of the site. “Unlike the mass vaccine sites, I think that experience of reaching out to people and it just flourishing, and the sense of community of everybody wanting to do something, everyone wants to take part,” she said. “It’s kind of exciting.”
If you would like to volunteer at the site, please email Palma at firstname.lastname@example.org.