County moving vaccination site from community college to skating rink at Mercer County Park

The county’s COVID-19 vaccination site at Mercer County Community College will be shut down in early May, and vaccinations will instead be administered at the skating rink at Mercer County Park.

On Tuesday, the Trentonian first reported the closure of the college vaccination site, quoting an email from a county spokesperson saying the site needed to be closed due to academic constraints.

“This is not a question of being pennywise,” county spokeswoman Julie Willmot said Tuesday in an email to the Trentonian. “We are willing to spend whatever we need to spend to get people vaccinated, whether it’s at the college site or any other. It is simply because the clinic at Mercer County Community College uses student nurses to administer the vaccine, and as the school year ends, the student nurses will be on summer break. We are transitioning to the skating rink at Mercer County Park, which is actually a bit closer to the eastern side of the county. There will be some overlap as we make the transition, but there is nothing more to it than that.”

On Saturday, Republican candidates for county commissioner blasted the county for allegedly closing down the site at the college and scrambling to set up a new site. Mark Matzen, the chairman of the MCCC Board of Trustees and a close ally of County Executive Brian Hughes, told a reporter for the Trentonian it was always the plan to shutter the MCCC vaccination site in May because of manpower issues. But according to the Trentonian report, the claim contradicted internal correspondence obtained by the newspaper. The college hosted the vaccination site pro bono for the last few months. Matzen told the Trentonian the partnership allowed student nurses to obtain clinical hours for their degrees and an opportunity to experience a public health program firsthand. The college offered to extend the clinic through the middle of August for about $20,000. The county has received more than $71 million in federal aid through the American Rescue Plan Act.

The Trenton accurately reported that the vaccination site would be moved to the county skating rink. Hughes sent out a letter to mayors on Wednesday claiming the media was spreading “disinformation” about the closure of the site that would be “potentially harmful or confusing to residents.”

“A recent news report stated that Mercer County would cease operating the county-run vaccine site in the gymnasium at Mercer County Community College, which features nursing students serving as vaccinators,” Hughes wrote. “In fact, Mercer County is transitioning its vaccination site from the college campus to the skating rink in the adjacent Mercer County Park, and the relocation will be seamless and without interruption. In an April 9 email to the Trentonian, the president of Mercer County Community College told a reporter the college offered to continue to host the vaccination clinics four days a week until mid-August. A budget for doing so was provided to the county.

Sam Frisby, the chairman of the Mercer County Board of Commissioners, told the Trentonian he learned about the closure of the college site on Tuesday. He said the county commissioners would be willing to make an agreement with the college that would work our for the college since the site is already established and familiar to residents.

Willmot said in an email to the press on Wednesday that the transition from the college to the county park skating rink will take place on or before May 8.  

“As of today, slightly more than 50 percent of Mercer County’s adult population has received at least one dose of vaccine, and we must leverage our relationships to keep that number growing,” Hughes said in a letter to the mayors in the county that Willmot forwarded to the press. “My administration will sustain our push to receive as much vaccine as possible, so that we can continue to get shots into arms. Let us continue to work together to vaccinate every Mercer County resident who wishes to be, as quickly as possible.”