The crowd of people waited outside the Somerset County Department of Health building on Thursday afternoon, brought together by worry and caution after a deli employee at the Somerville ShopRite was confirmed to have contracted the disease.
Once it was their turn, people were brought into the health department building in groups of 10 for the shots. Then, after hours of waiting, the newly vaccinated residents were on their way.
Free shots were also given on Wednesday, but the clinic had to close three hours early after administering more than 500 shots and running out of the original supply.
Jim Meirose, a Somerville resident, wasn’t shocked by the long lines.
“I’d be surprised if there’s anybody in Somerville who hasn’t been to this store recently,” he said.
He had come to get vaccinated with his wife, Mary Beth Meirose. She said the couple learned about the risk of hepatitis A exposure after getting a robocall from ShopRite and an email from the town.
Mary Beth Meirose said that while she and her husband weren’t very worried about getting sick, the vaccines offered some peace of mind. She did wish the county health department had offered clinics at multiple locations to lessen the wait.
“More annoyed that we had to go through it,” Mary Beth Meirose said. “It’s not their fault, but it’s an annoyance.”
For Colleen Matello, a Bridgewater resident, Thursday was her second trip to try to get a vaccine. She stood on line for more than two hours Wednesday before having to leave for work. She was given a priority ticket by county officials for her trouble, and was one of the first people seen on Thursday.
Matello said she frequently shops at the Somerville ShopRite, and had one of her sons throw out their lunchmeat after learning of the exposure risk.
“It’s crazy,” Matello said. “Scary. I just wanted to get my kids safe.”
Lawrence Ebert, another Bridgewater resident who frequently shops at the store, said he also tried to get his shot Wednesday.
“I gave up pretty fast,” Ebert said with a laugh as he explained why he was back in line Thursday.
The clinic is scheduled to remain open until 8 p.m. to offer the vaccines.
“We have quite a few people here, but as of this point we have enough vaccines to vaccinate everyone that is here,” said James Norgalis, the county health department’s deputy director, when addressing the media just before 1 p.m.
He said an additional order of 1,000 shots had been delivered to the county this morning to continue the free vaccine offer.
“The hope is that everyone who has a need for a vaccine will receive a shot,” Norgalis said.
Anyone who bought food from the ShopRite deli or used the store’s bathroom between Oct. 13 and Oct. 30 is advised to get vaccinated before Nov. 13, when the exposure window for most people closes.
Norgalis said the county is still working to develop a plan for offering free vaccines to people who were unable to come to the county clinic Wednesday or Thursday.
The number of vaccines administered by the Somerset County Health Department was the most for a single event since 2009, when free vaccines were offered during the global H1N1 flu pandemic, Norgalis said.
The ShopRite scare comes as New Jersey deals with a statewide hepatitis A outbreak that has left six people dead and hundreds more hospitalized. Across the country, more than two dozen states are dealing with their own outbreaks of the disease.
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