Updated at 11:17 a.m. Jan. 28

WESTFIELD, NJ — Boosted by the news that the federal government has promised a 16% increase in COVID-19 vaccine shots to states next week, Westfield’s mayor said the town’s health department is looking at ways to broaden access to vaccines for its residents.

While at Tuesday’s town council session Mayor Shelley Brindle had few specifics to share about what the Westfield Regional Health Department’s role would be in broadening access the vaccine, she acknowledged the frustration among her residents who are seeking the shots.

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“While the county is overseeing local distribution currently, our regional health department continues to explore all possible avenues to provide broader vaccination access for our residents who, like many across the state, are finding the process of securing a vaccination appointment very difficult,” Brindle said.

The plan for broadening that access does not involve the Westfield Regional Health Department administering doses directly.

“It doesn’t make sense to develop infrastructure in town if we’re not going to get access to doses,” Brindle said. “But I just saw the feds buying another 200 million doses so everyone will be vaccinated by the end of the summer.”

Brindle encouraged the public to attend a virtual forum on COVID-19 vaccines, which the Westfield senior citizens group Lifelong Westfield is set to host 2 – 3 p.m. on Thursday. Click here for the Zoom information for that forum.

MORE: Medical Experts to Answer Westfield Seniors’ COVID Vaccine Questions Thursday

The shortage of vaccines was top of mind in Westfield following a Sunday scramble for eligible members of the public to schedule doses via Union County’s COVID-19 vaccination website.

Eight minutes after officials said the county would allow people to log in to schedule appointments, the county announced that its site was experiencing technical difficulty and just over two hours after the appointments became available, the county posted that the available online appointments were booked.

Sebastian D’Elia, spokesman for Union County, on Tuesday said the county is only scheduling appointments when the doses become available — a practice that can vary by county.

“Others do a pre-registration system, but we believe in what we are doing, which is just to make the vaccines available when we have them,” D’Elia said.

He also sought to differentiate the county’s program from state supplied vaccination sites in Union County, which include supermarket pharmacies. As of this writing, the website for ShopRites in Clark and Elizabeth, show the appointment schedules for those programs are full. Other state supplied programs within the county have been suspended, pending availability of the vaccine, their websites show.

D’Elia indicated that the county is also working to establish a call center for people to sign up for the vaccine by phone. It will supplement the state’s call center, which can be reached at 855-568-0545 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

“We have the infrastructure to do all this,” said D’Elia, who noted reports of the federal government bolstering shot supplies. “It’s just a lack of vaccines that’s causing these problems.”

Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that the vaccine programs at ShopRites in Union County are still active. If you already have an appointment with a ShopRite pharmacy in Union County, the appointment is still on. However, the pharmacies are not making new appointments, pending availability of the vaccine.

Email Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net | Twitter: @MattKadosh

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