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SEFCU welcomes 1,500 for COVID vaccination clinic

State Employees Federal Credit Union in Albany, N.Y., which does business as SEFCU, hosted more than 1,500 consumers this week as part of a mass vaccination effort against COVID-19.

SEFCU is believed to be the first credit union in the country to serve as a vaccination site for the general public.

Michael Castellana, president and CEO of the $4.8 billion-asset institution, explained that as a member of the region’s vaccine advisory board, he has had a front-row seat for the vaccine’s rollout and understood “the acute need we have in this area to get the vaccines to become available and then getting people to actually get that poke in the arm.”

Jonathan Rivera, right, a SEFCU solutions specialist, receives Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination clinic hosted by the credit union.

Photo courtesy of SEFCU

While SEFCU’s branches are open, the credit union’s operations center has been “effectively shut down since last March,” said Castellana, with nearly all employees there working from home for the last year. Because of the facility’s central location, ample parking and security, “really it was hand-in-glove with what communities need to get people to quickly, easily and safely get vaccinated.”

A “low-volume, high-need” vaccination clinic was first set up for developmentally disabled community members, he said, and this week the credit union welcomed the community at large.

The timing couldn’t have been better. When the event was first announced, vaccines were primarily only available for those age 50 and older, but eligibility expanded to include anyone age 16 and older on the first day SEFCU opened its doors for the clinic. Online updates from the state also helped get the word out about the credit union serving as an injection site, and the shots were administered by Capital Regional Pharmacy Services.

“It is significant that now virtually anyone who wants a vaccine is eligible for it, so the demand is going to ramp up significantly,” Castellana said Thursday afternoon. “But as late as this morning there were news reports in our area of vaccination sites where they had hundreds of vaccines available to them. I think in New York the state has done a great job of getting the vaccination sites available and getting the vaccine; now our challenge is to convince people to take action and do that as quickly as possible.”

SEFCU staff, as well as the general public, were able to be vaccinated at the event, but Castellana said the credit union is not currently requiring vaccination for all employees.

“We haven’t yet determined what to do once we go back to a more hybrid [work] model for those who have chosen not to be vaccinated,” he said. “We’re hopeful that between being remote and the capacity we’ve built there that we can find that sweet spot where people who have chosen not to be vaccinated are not in high-access points for either our members or our other staff. But we haven’t crossed that bridge yet because we are still remote and are planning on staying remote until at least deep into the fall.”

Castellana did not participate in the clinic because he had already received his second dose of the vaccine before the event.

Those who got vaccinated at SEFCU received the two-dose Pfizer vaccine, and the facility will reopen again in three weeks so that those who attended the clinic can return for their second shot.

Despite the fact that there are more than 5,000 credit unions across the country and more than one-third of all Americans are credit union members, the industry has not been highly involved in the vaccination process. Castellana suggested that may be due in part to logistical issues.

Not only are those institutions trying to operate as effectively as possible in an unusual environment, he said, but branches still occasionally have to close due to COVID infections and exposure, and opening up buildings for vaccination could increase risk factors.

“We had the perfect facility for this, and because we haven’t brought employees back [to the operations center] you don’t have the concern about mixing a vaccine clinic with normal operations and bringing people into one of your facilities,” he said. “We just happen to have been in the right place at the right time where the need was most acute.”



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