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Vaccination clinics cause confusion, snarl Essex Jct. traffic

Published: Mar. 5, 2021 at 6:30 PM EST
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ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) - Concurrent vaccination clinics caused a traffic jam in Essex Junction Friday morning. It happened after more than a thousand veterans showed for a special VA clinic at the Expo at the same time as the UVM Medical Center was hosting a clinic in the same building.

There was some panic on Pearl Street as the line to get into the fairgrounds Friday morning extended a mile in either direction. Many veterans who arrived early say they were turned away after being told by security officials that the VA had run out of vaccines. A Champlain Valley Expo official says security staff and Essex Police weren’t turning people away, but rather asking them to come back later because the parking lots were completely full. VA organizers say they always had plenty of vaccines for any veteran who showed up.

Regardless of the outcome, as of Friday’s event, more than 700 are one step closer to immunity. “It wasn’t too bad. The lines were a little long, but other than that, once you get there, you’re fine,” said Jeffrey Williams, a veteran from St. Albans.

“It went well considering... I mean, obviously, this is the first undertaking here for us,” said June Kelly of Rutland.

Because Williams and Kelly aren’t 65, they’re not eligible for a state-run clinic. Instead, they waited a couple of hours to get their first vaccine through the VA. But that time is nothing compared to how long they might have waited for the state to give them a shot.

“Right now, I’m just glad to have it. My parents just passed away from COVID, so this is good for me,” Williams said.

“I’m also a teacher. We got all our vulnerable populations done first, and that’s so important. It’s all working out for all of us,” Kelly said.

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing between 8 and 9 a.m. Friday morning. While the VA’s pop-up site was a one-day-only event, the state-run site has been operating since February.

“When everyone showed up all at once, it created a little bit of a backup and a bit of confusion between the two different clinics,” admitted Katherine Tang with the VA in White River Junction.

That backup created a backlog for UVM Medical Center as Vermonters stuck in traffic arrived late to their appointments. Scott Macomber of Grand Isle says it took at least 20 minutes just to reach the entrance to the fairgrounds. “I had a 10:10, and I don’t think I got into the building until about quarter to 11,” he said.

The UVM Medical Center said in a statement that despite the increased activity, everyone who arrived at the clinic received a vaccine regardless of the delays.

Still, all agree they’re grateful veterans got their turn. “Veterans have already given so much to our country. They’ve risked their lives. Also, veterans are a high-risk population who need a lot more services than other people,” said Morgan Langlois with the Vermont Veterans Outreach Team.

“I’m so proud of our veterans -- being able to have this afforded to us,” Kelly said.

“Go VA,” added Williams.

Department of Homeland Security employees were also invited to the walk-in clinic. All 700-plus people will be back April 2nd for scheduled, staggered appointments -- no walk-ins

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