In Secaucus, a town of with a population of 22,181 according to the 2020 Census, 93 percent of residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Over 100 percent have had at least one dose. And those numbers continue to climb, allowing the municipality to have one of the highest rates in the county.
Mayor Michael Gonnelli and Town Administrator Gary Jeffas say the multi-pronged approach started with “a lot of trial and error” from the start, first targeting the vulnerable groups that needed it the most.
“When it was coming out, many groups wanted the vaccine,” he said. “There was a lot of clamoring for it, so we targeted the elderly population, going to the senior buildings and things of that nature to get to those populations. We had lists in the office and we categorized people by age, medical conditions, stuff like that. It was very time-intensive to get through those groups. As we did it, and we knew that there was so much demand at the time, we worked into a scheduling system. And we put a lot of information out there.”
Jeffas said that the town utilized every communication channel possible, especially via phone, text messages, and email.
“We tried to get a lot of information through a lot of networks,” he said. “We did a lot on our Facebook and on our town website. We have a reverse 9-1-1 system throughout town and we would always make announcements about the vaccine, when they’re available, and what dates.”
The town also utilized a series of videos, which played a vital role in its vaccination success.
“Our health department did a couple of videos since the beginning,” he said. “We had our video campaign at the site with the mayor and myself to just get people comfortable with the site. There was a lot of unknowns in the beginning so we videoed the process, from check-in all the way through vaccination, to get it out there so people who were reluctant or unsure how these sites operated would be more comfortable. We thought that would be a great visual to break the apprehension.”
The videos continued as more groups of people became eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.
“When we started vaccinating the kids, we did a video campaign with some of them that were vaccinated and put it up on the website to encourage the younger groups,” he said. “We also did a video a few months ago with people who’ve been vaccinated, saying why they got vaccinated and put that out all over our social media platforms. I would like to think the many efforts over social media, the videos and text messages, and that barrage really got the word out and encouraged people to get vaccinated.”
Efficient vaccine site
The town has largely received positive feedback from residents about the vaccination distribution site at the Recreation Center at 1200 Koelle Boulevard, Jeffas said.
“I’m sure many sites are run well, but all throughout we have gotten many compliments from all of our residents who came to our site on how well run it is and how efficient it is,” he said. “That’s also helpful because then neighbors were talking to neighbors and telling them about their experience and how it was. From what we’ve at least heard, it was very well received.”
The town had been administering vaccines at the Rec Center from the start. However, the initial site was in a trailer and tent outside the center. The site has come a long way since then, having only shifted to Town Hall during a brief lull in the demand for vaccines before returning to the Rec Center earlier in autumn.
“In the beginning we started out in a smaller outdoor facility with a tent,” he said. “I realized right away that I needed to move this inside and make it where it’s more comfortable for people, the experience is better, and the temperature is good. Since then, we have had a very high level of success. From the town’s perspective, we have to believe that what we did was penetrating our population.”
Jeffas said that the town targeted each age group with clinics in specific areas meant to help make getting each group vaccinated easier: “We wanted to make it easy to get the vaccine, trying to like knock out any negative factors. We’re doing great on our rates, so it seems like that worked.”
Promoting youth vaccination
In addition to the aforementioned rates, the town also has been successful in achieving high vaccination rates for 12- to 17-year-olds at 76 percent. And the town is working on getting a higher number for 5- to 11-year-olds, currently at 18 percent.
“We’ve only just started doing the that that 5 to 11 year old group work,” he said, noting that the town had just held its third clinic. More clinics are in the works as well, he added: “I suspect those numbers will go up soon.”
Due to the demand for vaccines for those who are recently eligible, the town is adding another day to its vaccination schedule.
“We have a lot of increased demand because the boosters are available to all,” he said. “So we’re doing vaccinations for first, second, or booster doses two days a week. We’re adding an extra day to our regimen and that’s the plan for the moment. When the booster doses demand is going down a bit, we may scale back a bit, but for now we are ramping up to at least two days a week. It could go up to three days a week sometime just to try to flush out that demand.”
Mayor Gonnelli echoed Jeffas, adding that word of mouth also helped residents get the vaccine.
“I don’t know how we can get there, but we’re over 100 percent for our vaccination rate now,” he said. “It’s all done by people talking to people. People in Secaucus really want to get vaccinated. We don’t want to see this thing take off again. So it’s all about people talking to people, people talking to me, talking to council, talking to administration. That’s what the whole thing is all about.”
Gonnelli said the site at the Rec Center made it easy for residents to get the jab.
“We offered a real convenient location for people to get the vaccines here,” he said. “There’s really no waiting at all. You only wait 15 minutes after you get the shot, you’re okay and you leave.”
Gonnelli continued: “It’s all about getting the word out. We put it over the air, we Swift texted people, I put it up on my Facebook account. People are coming to get vaccinated. Now people are coming to get their boosters… Get the word out. Get vaccinated, it’s so important.”
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