Razel Suansing, Contributing Photographer

This Thursday and Friday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s first mobile COVID-19 vaccination unit is visiting the Elm City. The unit will vaccinate over 800 individuals with the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot on the New Haven Green.

The visit is part of the unit’s 17-municipality tour of Connecticut, where it plans to visit locations with high social vulnerability indices as determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The unit is expected to vaccinate over 250 people each day. City and state officials on Thursday expressed pride and enthusiasm that the Nutmeg State is the first in the United States to implement such a vaccination unit and emphasized that the FEMA units aim to provide equity in the vaccination process.

“This unit is about going to where people are in the community and getting the vaccinations into people’s arms,” Connecticut Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz ’83 said at a Thursday press conference outside the unit. “We know that throughout this pandemic we’ve seen the tremendous disparities and inequities that we have in our state, and so this mobile unit is going to help to begin to address these inequities.”

Patrick Charmel SPH ’83, CEO of Griffin Health, spoke at the press conference on Thursday, noting that the FEMA van is one part of a two-pronged effort to increase vaccination efforts in cities like New Haven. The other element involves the mobile vaccination teams, which currently consist of 10 vehicles independent of the van that can collectively vaccinate 5,000 individuals a day, Charmel said. Two of the 10 mobile vaccination teams currently deployed in the state were in New Haven today.

On Thursday, Mayor Justin Elicker announced that Griffin Health will be a key partner for New Haven. Elicker said New Haven will now be a “main focus” for the health center, which partnered with the city on Wednesday. Griffin plans to operate the FEMA vaccination van alongside other pop-up clinics around the city. Charmel said Griffin is excited to be taking on initiatives like the FEMA unit.

“Griffin operates mobile vaccination centers in a number of locations,” Charmel said. “We recognize that there are individuals that have difficulty getting to those central locations. That’s why the FEMA trailer here is so important as we move around the state, trying to make vaccination available to people where they live.”

Many city and state leaders have said they are making vaccine equity a top priority. A Yale Community Health Care Van provides shots to underserved populations and religious communities. Also, the state said it plans to distribute $33 million in federal funds to local health departments and community organizations meant to “establish outreach, education and services for minority and traditionally underserved communities,” according to the governor’s office. 

Elicker said that 88 of Thursday’s vaccine signups for the FEMA van were solely due to the Red Cross’ canvassing in New Haven’s underserved communities.

According to Elicker, Charmel and other city officials, the pace of vaccine rollout has been the result of city, state and federal partnerships. Connecticut is currently ranked third in the country for the proportion of residents who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“I’m so proud of the fact that we have focused on historically underserved communities throughout this pandemic and continue to do so today,” Elicker said. “And it’s not just our team at the city of New Haven. It’s everyone from the Red Cross to our friends like Gov. Lamont and Lt. Gov. Bysiewicz.”

Richard Branigan, chief administrative officer at Connecticut’s branch of the Red Cross, said that the organization’s recent canvassing efforts in the Elm City have been encouraging.

Branigan said he accompanied Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Elicker, Health Director Maritza Bond and others into the Hill neighborhood last weekend.

“The spirit of that community, the positivity that came out and the celebration of the fact that spring was here was amazing to see,” Branigan said. “The partnerships that we’re establishing here today and through this pandemic will carry us forward — the trust that exists.”

Ward 1 Alder Eli Sabin ’22 stressed that the Johnson & Johnson vaccines offered on Thursday and Friday are especially important to those in his downtown ward, since getting two-dose vaccines can be logistically challenging for some residents.

“It is a beautiful day in Ward 1 today,” Sabin said. “New Haven has been hit very hard by this pandemic, and our constituents who work downtown often don’t have the time or the capacity to make sure they’re getting the two-shot vaccine. … Today is about equity and it’s about access, and that’s what our response to the pandemic has been about from the beginning.”

The FEMA van will return to New Haven in May.


Razel Suansing | razel.suansing@yale.edu

Owen Tucker-Smith | owen.tucker-smith@yale.edu

Razel Suansing is a staff reporter and producer for the City, YTV, and Magazine desks. She covers cops and courts, specifically state criminal justice reform efforts, the New Haven Police Department, and the Yale Police Department. Originally from Manila, Philippines, she is a first-year in Davenport College, majoring in Global Affairs.
Owen Tucker-Smith was managing editor of the Board of 2023. Before that, he covered the mayor as a City Hall reporter.