Getting Vaccines To Rural Places, Including Highland County

Jun 9, 2021

A nurse administers a COVID-19 vaccine shot at the Stonewall Ruritan's Club in the small town of McDowell.
Credit Randi B. Hagi

The Central Shenandoah Health District is getting COVID-19 vaccines into rural areas with mobile vaccination clinics, starting with Monterey and McDowell in Highland County. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

It was hot and sunny at the Stonewall Ruritan's Club in the small town of McDowell on Monday afternoon, as local residents drove up to a mobile vaccination clinic set up against the gorgeous backdrop of the Allegheny Mountains.

[Sound of truck driving up to the clinic]

The clinic was put on by the health district, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, and the Atlanta-based company MLU Services, Inc., which contracts out disaster preparedness, response, and recovery services all over the country.

Credit Randi B. Hagi

One of the clinic’s first patrons was Missy Moyers-Jarrells, who runs a maple syrup sugar camp in Highland County.

MISSY MOYERS-JARRELLS: I came to get vaccinated, one, because it was just the Johnson & Johnson one shot, and it wasn't the two shots, so that's a lot more manageable for me and my schedule. I know several friends who are younger than I am who got very sick from the COVID, so I decided to get vaccinated thinking that maybe that would help my chances, and we can kind of move on from this and kind of take our masks off and start socializing more freely.

She said that, even though most of her family has already been vaccinated and had minimal side effects, she was still nervous coming to the clinic that day.

MOYERS-JARRELLS: If you listen to the media and pay attention, all the false scenarios with people getting sick, some people got sick on the first shot, second shot – there's just a lot of misconception within the news, for sure. And then different people are reacting differently to shots, which – I'm sure that I'm going to be fine. I'm just a little nervous.

Highland County was chosen to host mobile vaccine clinics in part because of its remoteness – with just over 2,000 residents, the only other place to get a COVID-19 vaccine in the county is at the Highland Medical Center in Monterey.

Harley Gardner, emergency manager for the county, describes it as –

Harley Gardner is emergency manager for Highland County.
Credit Randi B. Hagi

HARLEY GARDNER: The most beautiful area of the whole state. If you like mountains and trees and rivers and eagles and – matter of fact there's an eagle right there flying up the river! We're right on the Bullpasture River now. He just went up through those trees!

Connie Cochran was there with MLU Services on Monday. She's a site manager from Texas who's been traveling all over during the pandemic, first administering tests and, now, vaccines.

Connie Cochran works with MLU services.
Credit Randi B. Hagi

CONNIE COCHRAN: The vaccine itself is very accessible for the most part in larger areas – not so much in these smaller, rural areas. So being able to bring the vaccine here to people who don't standardly get into the big city areas or are unable to travel to the big city areas, those are the biggest benefits, I think.

Since coming to Virginia three weeks ago, Cochran said they've vaccinated almost 500 people from Roanoke to Highland County – they actually hit 500 while I was there in McDowell.

[Sound of cheering for 500]

It's taken MLU Services a lot of legwork to hit that number, though – they've been averaging about 16 patrons per clinic. Six people came through in the first hour or so of Monday's clinic. And at the clinic in Monterey on Saturday, they only had two people. But Laura Lee Wight, the health district's public information officer, said it's still worth hosting them.

Laura Lee Wight is the Central Shenandoah Health District's public information officer.
Credit Randi B. Hagi

LAURA LEE WIGHT: One shot is a win. We're in this position now with the vaccine rollout that every shot matters, and especially when we're in … the rural areas of our health district, or areas that traditionally experience barriers to healthcare, it's really important that we provide vaccine opportunities in people's backyards, in their neighborhoods, in sections of the community where it's easiest for them to access.

As of Monday, 50.7% of Highland County residents had gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, and 46.5% were fully vaccinated.

The Virginia Department of Health sponsors programs on WMRA.

WIGHT: I think some folks have decided it's time to get it. There's also the aspect of convenience and ease, in that when you get the vaccine now, once you're fully vaccinated you can resume life somewhat normally, right? And kind of press play on the activities that we've missed out on during the pandemic.

Moyers-Jarrells, for one, is ready to press play.

MOYERS-JARRELLS: It's okay to be nervous. It is something new, but we take vaccinations all the time. It does seem like it was a very fast turnaround to get this vaccination, but a tremendous amount of people have been vaccinated, and they're healthy and they're fine, and it would just be nice to get our children back in the school system, to get back to socializing and getting together and feeling confident and not afraid of each other anymore. It would just be nice to walk into the grocery store and see your friend and give them a hug. So that's why I'm here. I just want all of us together as a group to move on together.

Find more about mobile vaccine and walk-in clinic sites...

Blue Ridge Health District

Central Shenandoah Health District

Lord Fairfax Health District