Frontline workers at Vermont’s largest vaccine clinic reflect on six months of service

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ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. – Vermont’s largest vaccination sites are winding down operations after six long months, and the healthcare workers who worked tirelessly to get Vermonters vaccinated may finally be able to breathe a sigh of relief.

The mass clinic at the Champlain Valley Expo, operated by UVM Health Network, closed its doors on Friday. It opened up on December 17, and frontline workers said the operation grew with each passing phase of the vaccine rollout.

“I believe we had five nurses in the beginning, and we only saw 200 patients a day,” said Connor Goodrich, the site’s vaccine pod lead. “That felt like 1,000 for us.”

“I believe we ended our clinic with over 124 nurses,” said Clinical Lead Stephyne Burke. “People were just signing up to help, we were having 20 nurses work at a time.”

In total, 85,000 Vermonters were vaccinated at the site, accounting for roughly 11 percent of the state’s total vaccine doses administered.

In between all those doses are countless stories of struggle, relief, and ultimately, gratitude.

“A female police officer came in, and when she got there, she just started sobbing,” said Jon Godaire, another vaccine pod leader. “She was so thankful, it was one of the best experiences to be able to be there with her and share that emotion with her.”

“There was a guy the other day who walked out yelling ‘I’m free!”, said Alicia Lunde, the site’s interim manager. “He shouted it when he was leaving.”

“A lot of people were excited to hug their family,” Burke said. “Especially the 75-and-up group, they just hadn’t talked to somebody in person in so long.”

All told, the clinic was open for 183 days, vaccinating 1,100 people per day at its peak. Those early days were more personal and emotional for the staff, and its those one-on-one interactions they’ll remember forever.

“One woman said ‘I’m so excited to see my grandchildren finally’, and I almost shed a tear at that because I thought about my grandmother, and she hadn’t left her house for a year and a half at that point,” Goodrich said.

“We had multiple veterans coming in and calling us their heroes, and when it flips like that, it really puts into perspective the work we’re doing here,” Godaire said.

Despite the long days and hardships, Alicia, John, Stephyne and Connor said a sense of duty got them through it, and that’s also what motivated the thousands of Vermonters who got their shots at the Expo.

“I think those 80 percent that stepped up weren’t doing it just for themselves, to me they were doing it for loved ones and people they care about,” Burke said. “It didn’t take us long, because we have an amazing team.”

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