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North End church hosts vaccine clinic

  • The pastor of St. Leonard's Parish, Father Michael Della Penna, receives his second dose of the COVID vaccine on May 13. Pilot photo/Jacqueline Tetrault
  • A sign outside the St. Leonard’s Parish Hall points the way to the COVID vaccination clinic. Pilot photo/Jacqueline Tetrault
  • Workers from NEW Health wait to check people in for their vaccinations in the parish hall of St. Leonard’s in the North End. Pilot photo/ Jacqueline Tetrault
  • Father Della Penna blesses parishioner Anne Tagliaferro as she prepares to receive her first vaccine shot. Pilot photo/Jacqueline Tetrault

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NORTH END -- The people lining up outside the hall attached to St. Leonard of Port Maurice Church on May 13 were not waiting to attend Mass or parish function. The sign outside the door revealed their purpose: this was a place where they could receive their coronavirus vaccine.

Since the end of March, NEW Health has been holding COVID-19 vaccine clinics three days a week in the hall, which is managed by the St. Joseph Society. NEW Health had previously used Old North Church as a clinic site but had to look for a new location when the historic church reopened to the public.

Jim Luisi, the CEO of NEW Health, thought of St. Leonard Church as an alternative. Its location was convenient since the back door of the church is opposite the back door of the health center, and the two entities had a good relationship. Before the pandemic, the priests of St. Leonard's would come to NEW Health to give blessings and even administer ashes on Ash Wednesday.

When Luisi called the pastor to ask about using the hall, Father Michael Della Penna immediately said, "Of course."

"He said, 'That's why we're here. We're here to help the community,'" Luisi recalled.

Father Della Penna put Luisi in touch with the St. Joseph Society, which agreed to allow NEW Health to use the space.

"It's the biggest space we've had so far, and it's really worked out the best," Luisi said.

Inside the hall, tables and chairs have been arranged into different sections for each step of the process. After checking in, patients fill out their paperwork at designated tables, then go to a cubicle where they receive the vaccine. Then they go to another area with chairs spaced out, where they wait for 15 minutes while they are monitored for adverse reactions or complications.

"It's big enough that we're able to do a great workflow," Luisi said.

Father Della Penna spoke similarly about the health provider's use of the St. Leonard's hall.

"I think it's a good utilization of space because it makes (the vaccine) available to a large number of people in a short amount of time," he said.

Luisi said he was happy to see Father Della Penna get vaccinated as soon as he was eligible.

"He sets a good example to his congregation and the community," Luisi said.

In the beginning, Luisi said, the clinic was fully booked, and they had to turn people away due to a lack of vaccines from the state. They were able to increase vaccinations after receiving more from the federal government.

Luisi said that they went to all the restaurants in the area to tell employees about the clinic and offer them the vaccine, knowing that some do not speak English and so would have difficulty learning about it through the media.

Father Della Penna, who came in for his second dose of the vaccine on May 13, said Luisi has been "a blessing for the North End."

"I'm glad to be able to help utilize this facility for the greater good. It's the right thing to do; that's how I feel," Father Della Penna said.

St. Leonard's parishioner Anne Tagliaferro also came to the clinic May 13. She said she felt "very apprehensive" about getting her vaccine but felt that she should get it anyway. Father Della Penna gave her a blessing before she received her dose.

Kathy Kelly, who also came that day for her second dose, said she chose the clinic at St. Leonard's because she lives just a street away.

"It was so easy to come here," she said.

Before the pandemic, Kelly had cancer and had just finished chemotherapy. Having been at home for the past two years, she said, she is looking forward to returning to work in an office after being vaccinated.

"I'll be looking forward to just getting on and having a good life," she said.

Clinics are being held at St. Leonard Church on Thursdays from 2 to 6 p.m., on Fridays from 1 to 4 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Patients must be registered with Mass General Brigham in order to schedule an appointment. More information about NEW Health's vaccination clinics is available at newhealthcenter.org/covid-vaccination-info.

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