On Wednesday, March 31, one of 25 current Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Community Vaccination Centers (CVCs) across the nation was officially launched on NJIT’s campus in Newark, the first one to stand in New Jersey. It is located in the Naimoli Family Athletic & Recreational Center, with lines of anticipated vaccine recipients wrapping around the building and the Wellness and Events Center each day. According to ROI-NJ, it is “supported by the federal government in partnership with the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, the state Department of Health, Essex County and the city of Newark.”
The Type 1 center is the largest kind of CVC, and happens to be the largest center in the state, capable of providing 6,000 doses per day, and as of Friday, April 2, it had an extra 9,500 vaccines. The Pfizer vaccine is being administered, scheduling recipients to come back for the second shot after 21 days.
The center will be operating for at least two months, seven days a week. It is located in such a way that does not interfere as much with the commute that students of nearby universities might have on a daily basis. It has also taken into account the ease and convenience for fellow residents of Newark. Just a week before the opening of this center, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said that less than 5% of people in the city had been fully vaccinated, leaving Newark behind the rest of the state and the nation mainly due to the lack of access to sites and resources.
The federal agency aimed to address this issue of unequal distribution of vaccinations across communities, so it has used “data from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s] social vulnerability index and population data from the census” to determine the most effective and beneficial locations for these CVCs according to FEMA’s website. Similarly, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said that the Newark center will reach “deep into communities with higher risks of exposure.”
A survey conducted by The Rockefeller Foundation that “reported that a significant majority of Black and Latinx Newark residents had not been vaccinated, while a large majority noted that if the vaccine was made available immediately, they would get it.” The recently launched center certainly helps this matter, providing local access to the thousands of doses. About a month ago, Essex County executives had also announced forming a partnership with local religious leaders to secure confidence and safety in the vaccine to minority groups and to some individuals who initially might not be willing to get the shot.
During the soft launch of the center on Monday and Tuesday, students, faculty, adjuncts and staff of NJIT were given the opportunity to receive a vaccine. Additionally, there were walk-ins accepted from anywhere starting from Wednesday until Sunday. Assistant Professor Kristen Severi in NJIT’s Department of Biological Sciences was fortunate enough to book an appointment on Wednesday.
Staying in line for just under 30 minutes, Severi was “happy to be waiting outside,” as she would have been concerned about ventilation inside the building. “I arrived at 8:40 a.m. for my 8:45 a.m. appointment, was inside around 9:10 a.m., and was out again by 9:25 a.m. (after my 15-minute waiting period),” she said. “The entire thing took under an hour!”
She described the building’s inside as well organized and space efficient, with National Guard personnel everywhere directing recipients and keeping things moving. It seemed like “a well-oiled machine,” which impressed her because she had scheduled her appointment for only the first official day of opening.
Once the personnel confirmed her appointment outside, she was screened verbally with questions about symptoms and possible exposure to the virus. After checking her temperature and verifying her identity, she was directed towards two booths side by side, with “one person taking down the information, asking me for consent, etc., and one person delivering shots and alternating between the two booths.” The area to wait 15 minutes after the vaccine delivery was arranged directly beside the exit so the recipient could leave quickly and easily. She added, “I could see personnel wiping down the rows of chairs in the waiting area after they were vacated before seating new people for their wait.”
Severi called the whole operation very professional. “My biggest concern was how risky the space was going to be inside, but since everything was organized with a unidirectional flow, I felt relatively safe,” she said. “Everyone I saw was wearing a mask and wearing it properly (which I feel is not always the case!). I assume things [at the center] will only improve as they get more practice!”
After seeing some people complaining about the long line outside, Severi mentioned that “while I was there, people were excited and happy to be getting vaccinated, and the folks inside kept the mood jubilant! Everyone was smiling and they were playing happy disco music. I felt like we were all going through a great experience together and everyone was happy to be there and get a potentially life-saving vaccine!”
She expressed how proud she feels that NJIT is able to host such an impactful site to get the shot. “I felt great getting my vaccine with people I knew were part of the NJIT campus community but also alongside people from the wider Newark community as well. There was a feeling of elation and solidarity!”