COVID vaccines on wheels
FEMA brings mass vaccinations to Caroline County
Volunteers from all over the country have deployed to Caroline County as part of the country’s effort curb the COVID-19 pandemic by getting people vaccinated. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Mobile Vaccination Unit is staged in an empty parking lot at the Ridgely Tech Park on Racetrack Road.
Zane Hadzick with FEMA Region 3 out of Philadelphia said the collaborative effort is what makes it work. The unit is one of the first in the U.S. to be used in a local, state and federal partnership intended to “get shots into arms.”The unit comes with
250 vaccine doses a day, plus another 100 doses for outreach teams.
“Getting access to those doses is really why we decided to invite the team down in the first place,” said Caroline Department of Emergency Services Anna Sierra.
Volunteering to be first at something is always a bit of a challenge, and they’ve had to work through a few things, she added. “… but it’s been absolutely worth having those doses in the county.
“They’ve been really great to work with. Laura Morgan, who is the site lead here, has been excellent, professional, kind of able to work with us and meet the demands of the community.”
The large trailer with pop-out tents on either side and a long trailer hauling a generator to power everything doesn’t look like what one might imagine when they hear mobile unit, “but they’re designed so they could be picked up and moved to the underserved populations,” Hadzick said.
It takes about three hours to set up and another three hours to break down, he said.
The FEMA outreach teams accompanying the unit are more of what is usually envisioned as mobile. Those teams target specific sites with large numbers of people needing vaccinated, which have been identified by the county’s equity team and economic development. For example, on Monday a team administered about 80 vaccinations at Medifast, another 50 or so were scheduled for Friday at Hanover Foods.
“We went out to Choptank Electric on Monday morning with one of the outreach teams, and then we went to our detention center,” said Caroline Health Officer Laura Patrick. (The outreach team said) “they really appreciated the experience of us going on site with them and bringing them to different places … they said the experience of going there, being able to interact with the correctional officers and even ask the inmates questions was very, very good.”
The unit in Ridgely is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sierra said they wanted to offer times that would fit into a variety of schedules.
When someone coming for a vaccine drives up to the first checkpoint they are reminded to wear a mask and directed to a designed parking area. Once they park and get out of their car, a greeter directs them to the check-in table, where volunteers verify their identity and complete any needed paperwork (or, in this case, iPad work — everything is electronic). On Thursday, check-in volunteers were from Arizona, Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico.
After the person is checked in, they are directed to a pathway of cones leading to the vaccination tent, which is attached to the “pharmacy trailer.” At the tent, a volunteer counts the number of people approaching and alerts the pharmacy team as to how many shots are needed. The person is greeted at the entrance and directed to a station where the loaded syringe is waiting.
After the person receives their shot, they leave the tent on the other side, stopping at the exit table, where a volunteer provides aftercare advice.
Volunteer Patience Holmes said she tells people to make sure to move the arm they got the vaccine in to help keep it from getting sore, not to sleep on it, to stay hydrated and after an hour or so to take a pain reliever if they have any discomfort.
This is Holmes’ second deployment with FEMA. Previously she helped with a drive-thru mass vaccination effort in Charleston, W.Va., she said.
After receiving aftercare advice, the vaccinated person is directed to return to their car and wait 15 minutes to make sure they don’t have a severe reaction. Volunteers in the parking lot monitor those vaccinated, ready to call for help if needed.
An ambulance and emergency medical team is on site. So far, no one had experienced a severe adverse reaction, they said.
Inside the trailer, Shari Steadham of Gilbert, Iowa, Jana Mladek of Auburn, Alabama, and Dr. Nakita Cropper, a pharmacist from Pocomoke, took care of drawing up vaccine as needed.
Cropper said she was excited when she heard the unit was coming here, “in my own backyard.”
She said she figured there was “no better time to serve” and stepped up to volunteer.
“I can tell you it has been so refreshing to see such a great group of people from all over the country, from different agencies, come together and serve our community,” Cropper said. “They are all really dedicated and compassionate.”
Both Steadham and Mladek work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Mladek said they answered an email, “a cry for help,” without knowing where they would be going. The USDA and FEMA bought her a plane ticket and gave her a credit card for a hotel. The fact the initiative is a national one “that came from the White House” made it easier, she said.
The MVU opened for business on Saturday, April 3, and will remain through this coming Sunday, April 11. After the soft opening Easter weekend, appointments have been increasing each day. They said they have probably done around 200 the past two days and were on track to hit 250 on Thursday.
The pop-up tent on the other side of the trailer is being used for administration, but they have to ability to double production by opening that side as a vaccination site too if needed, said Laura Morgan, site leader.
With Phase 3 opening, all residents 16 and older are eligible to be vaccinated, and they are hoping to see another wave of demand as word spreads that vaccine is available, said Sara Visintainer, chief of staff to the county commissioners. Patrick, Sierra and Visintainer lead the county’s COVID-19 response team.
“I love these ladies,” said Morgan. “They were the guinea pigs. They are the reason that we have been as successful as we have.”
“A good team effort,” Visintainer said.
To sign up, complete the eligibility screening form at www.CarolineCOVID19.org or call the county’s COVID-19 Call Center at 410-479-5880.