The FEMA mobile medical vaccination clinic Monday at the main hangar at Robert LaFleur Municipal Airport in Waterville. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — Tyler Bonnell had not received a COVID-19 vaccination before Monday because he had been busy doing plumbing and heating work for a mechanical contractor.

On vacation this week, the 31-year-old from Oakland was driving Monday morning on Kennedy Memorial Drive — on his way to get breakfast — when saw a sign for a vaccination site that required no appointment. So he turned onto Airport Road.

“It was very easy,” Bonnell said. “They’re very nice.”

Free Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccinations with no appointment necessary are being given through Wednesday at Robert LaFleur Municipal Airport, at a mobile medical clinic provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention.

The site is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. for anyone 18 or older, and officials are encouraging anyone who has not yet been vaccinated to take advantage of the quick-and-easy process.

“We try to provide people with as much privacy and comfort as possible,” said Patrick Boland, media relations specialist with FEMA.

Boland of South Carolina and James Segerson, a FEMA specialist from New Hampshire, were among many officials working at the site Monday morning, where motorists were guided through a line of traffic cones to the main airport hangar.

They got out of their vehicles, asked a few questions at two tables and then received their vaccinations at another table. A doctor, three emergency medical technicians, pharmacists, fire officials, representatives of American Medical Response and Maine Responds — Emergency Health Volunteer Service and others are staffing the site.

“Safety is the key component of this mission,” Boland said.

After being vaccinated, people waited inside their automobiles until allowed to leave — the entire process taking about 30 minutes.

“I feel a lot better,” Bonnell said after being vaccinated. “I’ve got six more minutes here. So far, so good. No adverse reactions.”

He said he planned to tell others about the vaccination site, which had no lines and no waiting Monday morning.

Boland said he hoped more people would show up at the site in the coming days. Only 94 people were vaccinated Sunday, and people were drifting in slowly at about 11:30 a.m. Monday.

Tyler Bonnell

Boland and Segerson gave a tour of the site Monday, calling it a mobile medical unit that includes a pharmacy.

The unit started April 12 in Oxford and then went to Windham, Biddeford, Fryeburg and Turner. On Wednesday, it is scheduled to return to Oxford to give those who received the Moderna vaccine a second dose. Officials expect to continue the mobile unit until July 2.

“We travel from site to site, set up and are typically on site three to five days,” Segerson said. “It varies.”

Maine still leads the nation in the percentage of population fully vaccinated, but demand has cratered recently, especially among younger people who have proven less eager or more hesitant to get vaccinated, according to public health officials.

The availability of the mobile unit comes as Maine’s total weekly vaccinations have declined by half over the past month, from 125,390 between April 5 and 9 to 64,290 doses between May 3 and 9.

The number of daily shots peaked at about 21,000 per day in mid-April, but is now closer to 11,000 per day.

The mobile clinics receive help from local agencies that provide traffic control, including police and fire officials, and ambulance are on site. County emergency management agencies, the Maine Emergency Management Agency and Maine CDC are also part of the effort.

“It’s very much a joint venture,” Segerson said. “There’s a lot of work that goes on, on-site and in the background.”

Quynh Tran, left, a pharmacist from Dallas, and Armando Arvizu, an EMT from Phoenix, at the main hangar Monday at Robert LaFleur Municipal Airport in Waterville, where they are administering the COVID-19 vaccine. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

Boland said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, was at the Waterville airport Sunday. The operation is referred to as the “surge force” and involves the U.S. Department of Public Health Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to Boland, who said FEMA has more than 10,000 people at similar sites across the country.

“The state of Maine asked us to be here, and we’re committed to working with the state,” Boland said. “The state is really trying to create these different avenues for people to be vaccinated.

“We’re here to support this state. Gov. Janet Mills, Dr. Shah, DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew — everyone’s done a really good job here in Maine, and they continue to do so.”

Quynh Tran, a pharmacist from Dallas, and Armando Arvizu, an EMT from Phoenix, were seated at a table in the hangar, where they administered vaccinations.

Tran said she works as part of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.

“This is our vaccine mission deployment,” Tran said. “We’re all on call, so when we get orders, we respond.”

Arvizu said he wanted to come to Maine, and loves it.

Meanwhile, Boland said a special EMT tent contains lifesaving equipment in case anyone has a reaction to the vaccine.

“We haven’t had to use any of this lifesaving equipment,” he said. “Literally, nothing has happened to anyone. This vaccine is just really safe.”

On Monday morning, Lt. Scott Holst of the Waterville Fire Department was greeting people in vehicles at the airport gate and directing them to the vaccination site. He said FEMA officials asked fire Chief Shawn Esler if firefighters could come out to assist with the effort.

James Segerson, left, a FEMA specialist from New Hampshire, and Patrick Boland, media relations specialist with FEMA, outside the main hangar Monday at Robert LaFleur Municipal Airport in Waterville, the site of a mobile COVID-19 vaccination site. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

“He jumped right on it,” said Holst, who has worked as a firefighter for 38 years, more than 27 in Waterville.

Holst said he was enjoying chatting with people and helping relay important information to officials at the hangar if, for instance, an elderly person is unable to get out of a vehicle.

“You get all kinds of different questions,” Holst said. “No one yet has asked what vaccine they are going to get.”

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