Big E, state in talks for mass COVID vaccination site at Eastern States grounds in West Springfield

Officials with the Eastern States Exposition have been working with state authorities since Jan. 1 on plans to use the grounds of the Big E as a COVID-19 mass vaccination site. Eugene J. Cassidy, president and CEO of Eastern States Exposition, said Tuesday his organization is awaiting a go-ahead from the state. “Certainly we provide the best location in all the commonwealth,” Cassidy said. “Certainly in Western Massachusetts. With our proximity to highways, it’s a good fit.”

State planners have mostly been interested in traffic patterns, Cassidy said, and the Big E has expertise in moving crowds of people and lines of traffic. More than 1.5 million people visit the fair every year and crowds can top 170,000 a day on weekends.

Earlier in the pandemic, the state set up a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at the Big E.

The Big E has discussed several options with the state, including a drive-thru clinic in one of its buildings where there would be sheltered working space inside and a dedicated parking area outside. People would stay in their cars.

Or, the Big E could accommodate a walk-in vaccination clinic.

“We have several buildings that are the same size as Costco,” Cassidy said. “So we could certainly handle the crowds.”

It wouldn’t be a moneymaker for the Eastern States Exposition, Cassidy said. But if the fairgrounds is used as a vaccination location, the program would help defray the organization’s ongoing overhead costs in running and maintaining the fairgrounds.

Cassidy spoke with The Republican after Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno said earlier Tuesday that a vaccination site was on the horizon for the Springfield area. A mass vaccination site is already open at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, home of the Patriots; for now it’s only available to emergency responders.

The state is still in the first phase of its vaccination plan, which includes health care workers and first responders, among several other groups. Phase two includes individuals certain health conditions, older adults, and a wide range of essential workers. The general public will be eligible for the vaccine in phase 3.

Many venues around the region are already serving as vaccination sites for health care workers and emergency responders.

The campus center at UMass Amherst opened as a site for first responders on Jan. 11. On Tuesday, Gov. Charlie Baker’s office announced that UMass Amherst will accommodate other eligible residents in phase one, and UMass said it would continue serving as a vaccination site “for the foreseeable future.”

“We are proud to devote our time, energy and expertise to expanding the Commonwealth’s vaccination program,” UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said in a statement. “This effort reflects our deep commitment to public service. Our clinic is staffed through the invaluable assistance of the UMass College of Nursing, with our nursing students providing critical support while also gaining clinical experience to administer vaccinations.”

Fenway Park will also serve as a phase one site for groups including first responders and workers in long-term care facilities and congregate care settings.

Beginning this week, meanwhile, at least 15 CVS Health and Walgreens locations will offer the vaccine in areas of the state farther from the larger vaccination sites. The locations — in Greenfield, Fall River, Salem, South Yarmouth, Pittsfield, Lee, Holden, Gardner, Hyannis, Mashpee, Somerset, Fairhaven, Haverhill, Saugus and Danvers — will receive a total of 10,000 doses a week. Residents eligible for the vaccine in phase one can find information at

About 40 vaccination sites will be added the week of Jan. 25 through current partners and additional partners, such as Wegmans, Big Y, Price Chopper, Stop & Shop and Hannaford. The state expects to increase vaccine volume through retail pharmacies in the coming weeks.