By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Region – Marlborough doctor Louis Kuchnir mobilized a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in just 14 hours, earlier this month.
Amid a national vaccine rollout plagued by delays, that effort means 65 area school nurses, in particular, now have an extra layer of protection as they continue their fight against the coronavirus.
“It was a fantastic thing to see,” Hudson Schools Superintendent Marco Rodrigues said in an interview Jan. 8. “The excitement on the face of every single person who came in was amazing.”
Concerns about vaccine delays
Kuchnir is a dermatologist. That job had him and his team of employees in line to receive vaccines just as they became available last month.
As the state put into motion its vaccination infrastructure, however, Kuchnir said he became concerned.
“I kind of know what the state can and can’t do in a hot hurry,” he said. “I could not see them being able to get all those doses out.”
Massachusetts, indeed, has had setbacks. In mid-December, just after initial doses arrived at area hospitals, it saw the federal government cut a scheduled shipment of vaccines by roughly 20%.
More broadly, nationwide logistical errors left millions of doses delivered to vaccination clinics but not yet administered to patients, as of Jan. 11.
Efforts to get vaccine doses
All this gave Kuchnir a sense of urgency that he acted on the night after he received his shot, himself, Dec. 27
“That was really where this kicked off,” he explained.
Through a state program, Kuchnir applied to receive 100 vaccine doses from the Cambridge drug-maker Moderna. Those doses arrived early Jan. 7, an unexpected surprise to Kuchnir and his staff who did not even know the state had approved their application.
Kuchnir got to work.
“I had to think fast,” he said. “…I could kind of tell that, whoever decided to ship these vaccines, didn’t want me holding on to them for three weeks.”
Calls to first responders and school administrators
State rollout plans dictated that Kuchnir had to give his vaccines to a select set of professionals working either in public health or emergency response.
Acting in accordance, Kuchnir called the fire department in his hometown of Southborough. As first responders there already had plans to get their vaccines soon, though, Fire Chief Steven Achilles redirected Kuchnir to Northborough/Southborough Schools Superintendent Greg Martineau.
Martineau responded enthusiastically and circulated Kuchnir’s vaccine invitation through an informal network of area superintendents long desperate to help their school nurses.
When Kuchnir wrapped his regular day of serving patients, Jan. 7, he had dozens of nurses waiting to volunteer for his clinic and needing to receive his shots.
“It felt amazing to be able to care for the caregivers,” Kuchnir said. “…They were so gracious and appreciative and helpful. It really was special.”
By the end of dual clinics on both Jan. 7 and Jan. 8, Kuchnir, a dermatologist with no experience delivering vaccines celebrated inoculating 100 people, the majority of which were school nurses working in eight districts from Marlborough, to Grafton, to Waltham.
Good news in a time of stress
The virus is not over. And the people Kuchnir helped vaccinate still even need to return to his office next month to get a second round of shots.
Kuchnir is happy, though, to have been a part of a joyous moment within an imperfect vaccine rollout at the end of a horrifying year of loss, frustration and pain due to the pandemic.
“I just haven’t felt this way in 20 years of being a doctor,” he said. “I help people every day. But I don’t usually get to help 65 nurses in two days…I’m just really grateful that the state sent me a box [of vaccines]. I hope I did my best with it.”