Tuesday, June 22, 2021
St. Luke’s Mobile Vaccine Unit Seeks to Erase Vaccine Disparity
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One of the eight employees staffing the mobile vaccination motorhome does the paperwork for Fredy Cisneros.
   
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Scott Milner has seen Wood River Valley residents show up at each of St. Luke’s six hospitals in search of COVID-19 vaccines.

Blaine County residents’ determination to get vaccinated has made the county the poster child among Idaho’s 44 counties when it comes to getting vaccinated. And, with 76 percent of eligible recipients vaccinated, the county is fast approaching what most health officials are describing as herd immunity.

But, if any county has an equity disparity when it comes to vaccines, it’s Blaine County, said Milner, St. Luke’s Director of Pharmacy. While many residents have been able to travel outside the county to secure vaccines, many have not been able to because of the expense or because they’re holding down three jobs.

 
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A nurse readies a vaccine for Fredy Cisneros, who opted for a Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
 

That’s why a Thor Outlaw motorhome sporting splashy black and blue stripes pulled up on the backside of the Bloom Community Food Center in Bellevue on Monday. A sign promising free walk-in COVID-19 vaccines hung on its side.

“I have been doing clinics where we’ve vaccinated 1,500 to 2,000 people at a time,” said Milner. “This is not about volume. This is about providing access. If we get 40 to 50 people in a day’s time who might not otherwise have gotten a vaccine, we’re happy.”

The Class A toy hauler RV on a Ford F-53 chassis left Boise at 6 in the morning bound for Bellevue. It is making six stops in the Wood River Valley this week, plus one in Shoshone, before returning to Boise to be taken to Parma and Nampa the following week.

Those who stepped aboard stated their preference for either the two-dose Pfizer or single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine from the plush cockpit with its telescoping steering wheel and Axerra navigation.

 
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Refrigerators have been retrofitted to store medical supplies needed for vaccinations.
 

A nurse working in a leather-covered dinette booth administered vaccine to those sitting on a couch across the aisle.

Vaccine was stored behind a double-door residential refrigerator and an AED defibrillator and EpiPen sat in storage near a converted master suite at the end of the van where people are seated for observation for 15 minutes after receiving a vaccine. A door can be closed between the observation room and the rest of the van for privacy should someone have a reaction to a vaccine.

But that really hasn’t been a problem, said Milner.

“We’ve done 140,000 vaccines and haven’t administered an EpiPen yet,” he said, referring to the device for allergic reactions. “But you need it just in case.”

 
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Anyone who has mobility issues may opt to stay in their car, rather than getting their vaccine in the motorhome.
 

The retrofitted mobile vaccination vehicle, which carries an outside TV screen for looping educational videos, had its maiden voyage last week, launching at the Mexican Consulate in Boise and making its way to Chobani’s manufacturing plant in Twin Falls, among other sites.

Each of those who got vaccines at Chobani were rewarded for getting the vaccine not just with a free yogurt but with a box of yogurt.

“Attendance was a little slow at first—most people don’t realize what the van is. But Thursday and Friday attendance started picking up as people began hearing about it from the Mexico Consulate. So, the numbers are starting to snowball,” said Milner.

Vaccinators have fielded all kinds of concerns. They’ve been able to assure those without insurance that the vaccinations are being provided free of charge. They’ve been able to allay the fears of the undocumented who don’t want to give them their IDs.

 
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Scott Milner works a computer in a converted kitchen sink area.
 

And they even found a way to get a vaccine to a woman who had lost her driver’s license in a California fire.

Some of those who have not gotten vaccinated gave up on getting an appointment after trying and failing so many times when demand outstripped the supply.

“We were at Caldwell High School and a young man came by on a skateboard. He saw us and said, ‘Hey, can I get a vaccine?’ He stopped, got a vaccine and was back on his skateboard headed to work in 15 minutes. How crazy is that?!” Milner recounted.

Milner said he’s heard all the “outlandish” myths, including the false notion that vaccines cause infertility and the equally false proclamation that the vaccine implants Bill Gates into brains. Those who have questions or concerns should talk to their doctor, said Joy Prudek, communications coordinator at St. Luke’s Wood River.

Milner said St. Luke’s is prepared to start vaccinating 12- to 15-year-olds as soon as Pfizer is granted emergency authorization to do so—something that is expected to come this week while the mobile vaccination clinic is in the Wood River Valley.

“I would be shocked if they didn’t approve it,” he said.

Minors need written or digital consent from their parents, although verbal consent has been accepted in some cases. Milner said a few parents have declined to get a vaccine for their children but that some of those children have opted to get vaccinated, anyway.

“Hundreds of thousands of vaccines have been administered without problems,” he added.

Milner said health officials are seeing the benefits of vaccination as hospitalizations and deaths decline. In fact, the state was able to move from Stage 3 to Stage 4 of the Idaho Rebounds Plan on Tuesday, meaning there is no longer any limit on the size of gatherings.

“I had COVID and, even though I wasn’t hospitalized, it took me months to make a full recovery. And I’m a young healthy guy—I ran 40 miles on my 40th birthday,” he said.

“But I had family pass away from COVID. My father died during the pandemic and I couldn’t attend his funeral. I want to get back to normal, and getting vaccinated is the way to do that.”

By the end of the first day, those in the vaccine mobile had vaccinated about three dozen people--one more assurance, given that 10 new cases of the virus were reported in Blaine County on Monday and Tuesday.

Milner said Blaine County residents should feel fairly safe in the next month given the high level of vaccination in the county. And the vaccinated who travel out of the country can feel good about returning without the risk of bringing virus to those who live here.

And what about June when vacationers and second homeowners start returning?

“It seems that many of those who are traveling are opting for vaccines,” said Milner. “But that’s an assumption.”

WALK UP TO A VACCINE

The Vaccine Mobile Unit will be at:

  • Wood River YMCA in Ketchum from 4 to 8 p.m. today—Wednesday, May 12.
  • Bellevue at 600 N. Main St. from 9 a.m. to noon Thursday, May 13.
  • The Summit Apartments at 155 W. Galena St., in Hailey from 2 to 3 p.m. Thursday, May 13.
  • Shoshone at 103 N. Greenwood St. from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. Friday, May 14.
  • Kiwanis Park near Balmoral Apartments in Hailey from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday, May 15.

 

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