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Mobile Vaccine Clinics In NC Aim To Reach More People

Katie Benedyk, a community paramedic with Orange County Emergency Services, draws up a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Katie Benedyk, a community paramedic with Orange County Emergency Services, draws up a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

On a warm and sunny morning in late June, Community paramedics Katie Benedyk and Landon Weaver pulled up to the first stop of the day. Benedyk walked around to the back of the minivan to prep a vaccine dose.

"And then we will make sure that after we open the vial, that the top gets cleaned really well, because you want it to be sterile," she said as she wiped the top of the vial. "Moderna is a 0.5 cc dose. Unlike the Pfizer, we don't have to reconstitute it, so it's really simple to draw up."

She stuck the needle in to the vile and pulled out one dose.

"Moderna carries on average 10 to 11 doses per vial," she said, flicking the syringe to get out all the air bubbles. Then she set the vial back in the mini fridge and put on a fresh pair of gloves.

"I've got a box full of supplies that has alcohol prep, CDC cards, Band-Aids, gloves, a sharps container, hand sanitizer. Basically everything we need just generally to bring into the house," she said. "And then we set the vaccine in there. And then off we go. It's got everything we need."

Covid-19 vaccines are widely available in North Carolina now. But not everyone is able or feels comfortable leaving their house to get one. In Orange County, thanks to a partnership between emergency services and the health department, a mobile vaccine clinic is trying to make that process a little more convenient. Benedyk and Weaver load up the white minivan and bring vaccines to any corner of the county.

Vaccination rates have slowed across the state. Just about 56% of adults have received at least one shot. President Joe Biden has wanted to see that number up around 70% range by now. The community paramedics taking vaccines to people's homes hope they can help the state get closer to that figure.

At one of the team's stops, a townhouse in Chapel Hill, Benedyk handed off duties to Weaver.

Esther Hester, 64, lives by herself but has some difficulty getting out of the house. She's been very careful to not get the virus and is happy to have the vaccine come to her instead. To start, Weaver went over the standard checklist.

"So no medications that you are allergic to?" he asked. "Have you had vaccines before, like the flu vaccine?"

"Oh yeah, I get that every year," Hester responded.

Before getting her shot, Hester video chatted with her niece, who is set to get her vaccine soon and is a little fearful of needles.

"See, there's nothing to it," Hester said after getting the jab.

Weaver sat with Hester for 15 minutes after she got the shot to make sure she didn't have side effects. They scheduled her second dose, and Hester said how appreciative she was that someone brought the vaccine to her.

"There's a lot of people who want the vaccine, but they can't get out to get it. And I think this is marvelous for people who can't get out to get it," she said. "I truly, truly appreciate this right here. And I wish it could get out to a lot of people. It's a blessing that you guys can do this."

Weaver said these mobile visits target exactly the types of people they want to reach.

"The whole objective is to identify folks that we know are out in the community and the county as a whole, who have not had the ability to access vaccine but are interested in it," he said.

He and Benedyk agreed it’s rewarding to bring the vaccine to people who want it.

"There have been multiple seniors that we've gone to for first and second dose vaccine where they're excited because in a couple weeks after their dose, they'll get to see their grandkids for the first time in a year," said Benedyk, noting the mobile clinic is not just for seniors. "Younger kids and those who still live at home that have any form of special needs, such as autism or Asperger's, cerebral palsy, all of these other ones where going to a doctor's office or somewhere new or outside of their norm can be significantly traumatic for them."

Copyright 2021 North Carolina Public Radio

Jason deBruyn is the WUNC data reporter, a position he took in September, 2016.