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Clinic vaccinates hundreds

Saint Francis hosts Mainline Pharmacy event; more planned

Saint Francis senior nursing student Alexandrea Gochnaur of Altoona (right) talks with Connie Klinehans, 68, of Nanty Glo after administering the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a Mainline Pharmacy clinic at Saint Francis University on Thursday. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

LORETTO — Glenn Beck of Loretto has Type 2 diabetes, and he’s been worried since he learned that his illness makes him especially vulnerable to harm should he contract COVID-19.

He wears a mask, keeps his distance from others and avoids crowds, but the risk remained.

On Thursday, however, he took a step toward relieving that risk and his worry with a vaccination at a clinic run by Mainline Pharmacy of Ebensburg at Saint Francis University. Beck had been a little nervous about getting vaccinated, but he “put in the research” and grew confident, he said.

He actually could have gotten vaccinated earlier, but it seemed selfish not to let older people go first, he said. Now though, “it was time,” he said.

“If this is what it takes to get normalcy back, I’ll do it in a heartbeat,” he said.

The one-day clinic was Mainline’s fourth so far, after having done an initial pilot at Saint Francis last week, followed by clinics at Saint Vincent College and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, according to Steve Pope, the company’s director of sales and marketing.

Another clinic is scheduled for Saturday at Saint Francis and additional clinics are expected to occur next week and beyond, officials indicated.

All those wishing to register for Mainline’s vaccination waiting list can send an email with their name, age, occupation and medical conditions, along with a phone number, to COVID@mainlinerx.com, according to a notice on the company’s website and a phone greeting at its nine stores.

The Mainline stores are marked on the state Department of Health’s interactive Vaccine Provider Map, along with contact information that appears when users click on the store sites.

Only people in Phase 1A of the state’s vaccination plan are eligible at this time: health care workers, people 65 and up and people 16 to 64 with one or more of the health conditions listed as qualifying by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mainline has given 4,000 to 5,000 shots so far, some to residents of its long-term care facilities, according to Pope.

There are 12,000 to 15,000 names on the waiting list, Pope said.

Mainline calls or emails those on the waiting list when their turn comes up, providing a password that allows them to schedule a clinic appointment via the company’s website, on which there is a menu of available appointment slots, Pope said.

Users click on an appointment slot, provide some additional information and print out a consent form, which they fill out and bring with them to a clinic at the appointed time.

Those who don’t have a printer available can obtain a consent form at a clinic.

There are two time slots for every minute during the clinics, Pope said.

Those who arrive within 15 minutes of their assigned times are invited into the room where the shots are given, with masking and social distancing required.

Those who arrive earlier are asked to wait in their vehicles.

People receive a card noting that they’ll be getting the first dose, with a second-dose appointment listed on the back of the card.

The second doses occur four weeks later for the Moderna vaccine, which the company was using Thursday.

After receiving a shot, individuals wait on chairs for 15 minutes to ensure they don’t have a reaction. The whole experience takes about 30 minutes, Pope said.

There have been no reactions so far, said Mainline owner Jerry Moschgat.

Ownership has been “aggressive” with its vaccination effort, Pope said.

It’s personal for Mainline owner Jerry Moschgat, who has had friends die of the coronavirus. “We have the capacity to do it,” Moschgat said.

Word is starting to get around about the clinics, although more than half the people who have come to them so far are regular customers of Mainline, according to Pope.

Moschgat isn’t inclined to endorse the widespread criticism of the state’s and the nation’s handling of the vaccine rollout so far.

“These are unprecedented times,” he said. “Who could have been prepared for anything like this?” He’s hopeful that “this time next year, we won’t be wearing masks,” he said.

Mainline is using college campuses for the clinics because they have the space to allow for social distancing and because they can provide people to help with the work, Pope indicated.

People have been “ecstatic” to get vaccinated, Pope said. Some “haven’t seen their grandkids for 10 months,” he said.

Dino Persio, 86, of Ebensburg, was pleased to get vaccinated at Saint Francis. He has been refraining from going to high school basketball games and from visiting restaurants, and he’s been masking and “washing my hands 100 times a day,” he said, while waiting in a chair alongside the basketball court in the auxiliary gym at the Stokes Athletic Center to be sure he didn’t have a reaction.

“I’m lucky to have the opportunity,” he said.

Getting vaccinated “can only help,” said Pamela Bortel, 70, of Ebensburg, who was also waiting to ensure she didn’t have a reaction.

She has been staying in more than usual to be safe, although it hasn’t been too onerous, because she’s a retiree and didn’t go out much anyway, she said.

“It can only help” to get vaccinated, she said. She said she’s been more worried about her children than herself, because they need to be out and about more.

Mainline began working with the state Department of Health in the fall to become a vaccination provider, said John Pastorek, the company’s director of pharmacy.

The firm started requesting doses soon after the Food and Drug Administration approved Emergency Use Authorizations for the two vaccines that have been authorized so far, Pastorek said.

Now, the DoH surveys providers like Mainline every week, asking how many doses they’ve administered that week and how many they want for the next week, Pastorek said.

So far, the DoH has been able to “honor” most of Mainline’s requests, he said.

The number of doses the firm can administer is limited by the manpower it can summon and the size of the facilities it can access, Pastorek said.

Another constraint is the number of vaccines available, Pope said.

The recent addition of 3.5 million people to Phase 1A, which at first comprised just health care workers, has made the effort more challenging, Pastorek said. But that doesn’t mean he thinks it was a bad idea to add so many all at once.

“It’s real easy to sit back and say, ‘it’s stupid,'” he said. “But I don’t know how else to do it. People over 65 need (vaccinated) just as much.” There needs to be a “balance” between controlled access and quick administration, he said.

Vaccinations are free to whoever comes to the clinics, he said. Mainline bills the insurance companies of those who have insurance for a small administration fee, Pastorek said.

The government is in the process of setting up a system that may result in providers also getting reimbursed for those who don’t have insurance, he said.

No one is turned away, though, he said.

Saint Francis partnered with Mainline because helping the community that way is “a natural fit” with the university’s mission, said university spokeswoman Erin McCloskey.

It also “means a lot to be part of something so historic,” McCloskey said, referring to vaccinations as the key to recovering from the worldwide pandemic.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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