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Reaching out: A COVID-19 clinic in a church in the city

New London — A church in the city could be just the place to administer the COVID-19 vaccine.

On Thursday, the Church of the City on State Street was that place, with about 100 people — members and nonmembers of the church alike — exposing their upper arm for a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. They’re all scheduled to return for the second dose in three weeks.

Yale New Haven Health personnel who gave the shots said there was little hesitancy to overcome.

“I’ve just been waiting for the chance to get it,” Rigoberto Solas, 47, of Norwich said while seated the requisite 15 minutes after receiving a shot. “No worries. I did my research. I read up on the vaccine and all its benefits. I will urge people to get it because of the chance they can get the virus. It’s not worth it. Just get protected.”

“Don’t believe the ‘blah, blah, blah,’ the speculation that it is bad,” he said.

Endorsements from ministers and church leaders can go a long way in convincing people to set aside whatever fears they might have and get vaccinated, said Nancy Hamson, a Yale New Haven Health director of community health. That’s one of the reasons health care providers intent on ensuring the COVID-19 vaccine rollout reaches underserved, minority communities have turned to churches.

Another is that churches tend to have the space necessary to host “pop-up” clinics like the one at Church of the City, Hamson said.

Yale New Haven Health has been doing two pop-up vaccination clinics a week in Bridgeport, New Haven and New London, and has completed 10 of them so far. Twenty-four are scheduled.

Brenda Roman, 38, of Groton, a ministry assistant at Church of the City, was among those who rolled up a sleeve. She said Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London, a Yale New Haven Health affiliate, approached the church about hosting the clinic.

“We’re a church in the city, for the city,” she said, quoting the church’s motto. “Of course, we were happy to do it. Many of our members are older people who got vaccinated earlier and they played a huge part in spreading the word to other people. That’s what made this possible.”

Roman said Church of the City has between 275 and 300 members, about 60% of whom are Hispanic. The other 40% are Black and white, with 16 nationalities represented overall.

This week’s announcement of a nationwide pause in administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after six recipients developed blood clots prompted some questions, but otherwise the response to the clinic was completely positive, Roman said.

“We’ve got some church members who are Pfizer employees,” she said. “We’ve got nurses, pharmacists, scientists. ... They’ve been looking forward to this day.”

An L+M spokeswoman said 35 members of the L+M staff had signed up for the single-dose J&J vaccine Thursday and were switched to doses of Moderna, which, like the Pfizer vaccine, requires a second dose. The mass vaccination site that Yale New Haven Health runs at Mohegan Sun was scheduled to administer some 1,100 doses of the J&J vaccine and switched to Moderna, as well, the spokeswoman said.

Sydney Lyon, a 16-year-old Fitch High School sophomore, got a shot at the Church of the City clinic. She said COVID-19 sent her to the emergency room in January and that she is grateful the state’s age-based rollout of the vaccine enabled her to get a dose earlier than originally planned.

She had an appointment to get a shot in Bridgeport, but it was canceled amid the J&J pause. She then got the appointment at Church of the City through a friend who belongs to the church, she said.

“I hope that everyone gets it,” she said of the shots.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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