'We're ready to go': Trumbull moms mobilize to help administer COVID vaccines

Shannon Pranger and a group of 50 Trumbull moms are ready to pitch in and administer vaccinations as supply increases.

Shannon Pranger and a group of 50 Trumbull moms are ready to pitch in and administer vaccinations as supply increases.

Contributed photo

TRUMBULL — All it took was a single post on a town social media page to mobilize a small army of moms into the fight against COVID-19.

Shannon Pranger, a professor of nursing at Sacred Heart who also works as an emergency room nurse at St. Vincent’s Medical Center, heard that COVID-19 vaccine clinics run by the Trumbull Health Department were limited because they didn’t have enough nurses to administer the doses.

Health Director Lucienne Bango had told Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz at a meeting last week that the department was administering 100 vaccinations a week but “could do a lot more” with more resources.

“I get frustrated when I know that there’s a need and I can maybe do something,” Pranger said. “I’m a nurse and I figured I could rally a few other nurses in town to volunteer their time and help vaccinate.”

Pranger emailed Bango and First Selectman Vicki Tesoro, offering her skills as someone who is certified to give injections, then made what she thought would be an innocuous post on the Facebook page Trumbull Life of Moms.

“I might have emailed the Trumbull Health Department and volunteered us all to be vaccinators,” she wrote. “I know there are a ton of nurse moms on here that would be willing to volunteer their time to vaccinate their neighbors.”

The response was immediate and overwhelming, she said.

Nurses, doctors, physician assistants, certified pharmacy technicians and more — about 50 in all, volunteered to give vaccine injections. Another 40 who aren’t certified to give injections offered their services doing any needed non-clinical work.

“People volunteered to do data entry, make spreadsheets, schedule, anything you can think of,” Pranger said.

Bango said the extra hands would be useful as the state ramps up delivery of the vaccines. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are approved in the United States. A third, by AstraZeneca, is approved in the United Kingdom and is undergoing a 30,000-person clinical trial in the United States.

Distribution, though, has been sluggish, Bango said.

“Every Wednesday, we order vaccine doses through VAMS (Vaccine Administration Management System) and then on Friday, we find out how many we are going to receive,” Bango said. “Some communities get their entire request, some have gotten none.”

Trumbull, which runs vaccination clinics on Tuesdays at the Center at Priscilla Place, has ordered and received 100 doses each of the past two weeks. Last week, Bango said she requested 200 and is optimistic that the department will be able to use them.

“There’s a lot of logistics,” she said. “We need to have people there to administer the vaccine, support staff. There’s a lot of non-medical work to be done, too.”

Bango has advocated regionalizing the vaccinations, which would allow multiple health departments to contribute one or two staff members, rather than having individual departments essentially shut down to run a day-long clinic.

At Trumbull’s weekly clinic, Bango is on-site overseeing the entire process, the department’s administrative assistant signs people in, and the public health nurse and a second certified health care worker administer the vaccines. That leaves just one person available to do all other Health Department functions for the day.

But if five departments joined forces, each of them would be able to maintain normal operations, while also fully staffing a larger vaccine clinic.

“Then, we set up in the gym at Trumbull High and we vaccinate 1,000 people in one day,” Bango said. “And then the next day we’re in Stratford, the day after that somewhere else.”

This would also allow health departments to better deploy people like Pranger’s group, Bango said.

Tesoro said having trained volunteers available would come in handy as the state opens up vaccinations to more people. Only those in Tier 1A — nursing home residents and front-line health care workers and first responders — are eligible to be vaccinatead. Tier 1B will likely consist of residents over 75, teachers and child care workers, and others, should start receiving their vaccines within a few weeks. The general public likely will start receiving vaccines in the spring.

“We take our guidance from the state,” Tesoro said. “Hopefully, we can open it up to more people in late January or early February.”

Whenever the call comes, Pranger said she and the Trumbull moms will be ready.

“We’re ready to go,” Pranger said. “If we get the call that today’s the day, we’ll all jump.”