County mobile unit travels to bring COVID -19 vaccine to communities of northern Arizona

Koda Frank, 10, receives his first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine Dec. 18 from Coconino County nurse Megan Hinkley at a mobile vaccine pop-up event  in Page, Arizona. The event was sponsored by the city of Page, Coconino County Health and Human Services and partners Canyonlands Healthcare. (Katherine Locke/NHO)

Koda Frank, 10, receives his first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine Dec. 18 from Coconino County nurse Megan Hinkley at a mobile vaccine pop-up event in Page, Arizona. The event was sponsored by the city of Page, Coconino County Health and Human Services and partners Canyonlands Healthcare. (Katherine Locke/NHO)

Irvin Frank was nervous.

Sitting in the theater at the Cultural Arts Building Dec. 18 at Page High School, he was there for a mobile vaccination pop-up event put on by the city of Page and Coconino County Health and Human Services.

One of his two children, 10-year-old Koda, was getting his first shot of vaccine while his sister, 4-year-old Peyton looked on.

While Frank had already received a shot of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, he still was hesitant about getting a booster, because of conflicting things he has heard about the vaccines.

“But, after seeing what COVID has done drastically to the economy, I think it’s very fundamental. I’ve seen a lot of close relatives and friends pass away from it and I’m trying to be an example to my kids,” he said. “I think it’s very important to get vaccinated, not only for me and for my kids, but also just not to spread it to other folks in this community in Page.”

Frank said the city's proximity to the Navajo reservation means Page gets local visitors as well as foreign visitors coming to see the scenery and slot canyons.

“We’ve got visitors from all over the place, so it’s important to be vaccinated,” he said.

Frank received a first shot of Johnson and Johnson vaccine, but with the new Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, Coconino County Health and Human Services Clinical Director Debbie Branson explained to Frank why his second shot should be either Pfizer or Moderna.

While Frank may have been confused, Branson said having the mobile vaccine unit is one way the county tries to get the information to the far reaches of northern Arizona.

“We’re trying to reach everyone, from Page to Fredonia, Williams, Blue Ridge, all of those areas,” she said. “This allows us to go to everyone and hopefully encourage and educate about vaccines, the importance of vaccines.”

The ability to travel to these locations is essential, Branson said. As is the importance of addressing people concerns about the vaccine.

“Vaccines are one of the most crucial tools to trying to change the trajectory of COVID and try to get out of this pandemic,” she said. “We know there’s hesitancy, so being able to meet people in their space and try to encourage vaccines, but dispel some of the myths and concerns out there is important.”

It can be hard to disseminate information as people are being vaccinated, but Branson said the partners they work with, like the city of Page or Tusayan, and the healthcare organizations, like Canyonlands, help get the information out.

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A mobile COVID-19 vaccine unit is open at the Flagstaff Mall from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for adults and 2-5 p.m. for children on Wednesdays and Fridays. The vaccination site gave 251 vaccinations Dec. 23. (Katherine Locke/NHO)

She also credits the team she works with, which includes administrative specialists, nurses, paraprofessionals and nursing students, for having the knowledge to answer questions about the vaccine and handle language barriers.

Page mayor encourages county support with mobile vaccine unit

Page Mayor Bill Diak was on-hand for the city's sixth pop-up clinic Dec. 18, as he has been for past events, which started very early on in the vaccination process and has been continuing every month.

“We started at 10 a.m. this morning and we had a line by 9:45 a.m.,” he said, with a pleased smile. “As you can see, it’s still going really, really strong at about 11 a.m. and that is why our community is one of the most vaccinated in the state.”

Diak said Page is 79.9 percent vaccinated and the only reason it dropped down from 83 percent was children 5-11 became eligible to be vaccinated. He thought the mobile vaccination clinic that day would boost Page back up into the 80s.

“We’re happy for that because we’re protecting one another as well as those around us,” he said. “This event is open to anybody in the region. So, whether they’re from Greenhaven or Big Water or Utah or LeChee or Kaibeto, everybody’s welcome. And that’s one reason our whole region’s percentage of vaccination is very, very high, highest in the county.”

Diak said the vastness of the area they draw from is one of the most important factors in getting people vaccinated.

“When you leave here, it’s a long way to anywhere else,” he said. “We draw from a large area because of that and with all the tourism, it’s important we protect one another.”

With a background of 26 years of medical experience, Diak said he believes in the vaccine and believes that COVID-19 is a problem that needs to be dealt with and that cities and counties need to be proactive in their approach.

“That’s why I worked with the county on sponsoring these events on a regular basis,” he said.

Although clinics in Page offer the vaccine, the mobile unit doesn't require appointments and people can get the vaccine on their own schedule, Diak said.

“They’re very well-accepted because a lot of people have to take off work,” he said. “Or, if everybody tries to get into the doctor’s office on Saturday, not because they’re sick, but for vaccines, there’s just not that much availability of personnel to get it done.”

Diak said there are at least 20 people working behind the scenes at computing paperwork and registrations, as well as providing transport and administering the vaccine.

“It takes a lot to do an event like this,” he said. “We will probably run through 150 to 200 people today.”

It was 165.

In addition to Canyonlands Healthcare, which is based out of Page, Coconino County received assistance from Banner and Encompass staff.

“It’s a true community effort,” Diak said. “I like it that way, because it’s nice when you see a familiar face that’s going to be putting as shot in your arm.”

Canyonlands helps vaccinate its community

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Canyonland Healthcare medical assistants Lulonda Herder, Samantha Caldwell, Amanda Clark and Chantelle Fowler help with vaccinating people at the Page vaccination event. (Katherine Locke/NHO)

Samantha Caldwell is a medical assistant with Canyonlands Healthcare, where she has worked for 10 years.

Because children ages 5-11 years old can now be vaccinated, it provides a challenge to those giving vaccinations, Caldwell said.

“It’s a matter of learning how to hold them in certain positions, so you can give them the shot,” she said. “Preferably, if they are super feisty (like many were on that day), you would give them the shot in the leg. But, at events like this, it’s a bit harder to do that because of all the people around.”

Caldwell said the nurses and medical assistants coach the parents on how to hold the kids, basically a hug from behind.

“It’s a little bit more comfortable for the kid to have that from their parents,” she said.

Caldwell said the pandemic has pushed her to go to school to get her nursing degree and events like this show her why.

“I appreciate events like this because it gives a change for those who can’t come to the clinic during the times we’re open to get vaccinated here,” she said. “You see all the nurses here and they’re very encouraging to go take programs and go to school and get my degree. So, it’s pushed me in that direction.”

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