Guard, volunteers, students help with local vaccinations

I’m in a job transition from journalism to the counseling profession, and I’m working part-time in a mental health clinic. That position qualified me, as a health care worker, for the first tier of the COVID-19 vaccine. I was able to secure an appointment at the Canadian County Health Department clinic at the Yukon Community Center Dec. 31.

Although she’s a hospice nurse, Novella Todd looks away as National Guard Spc. Jackson Ridgeway administers her COVID-19 vaccination at the First Baptist Church in El Reno Monday. Photo / Chris Eversole

It was a dreary, chilly day. The line extended through the parking lot. I was glad I was bundled up with a heavy coat, gloves and a stocking cap.
While the cool temperatures and wait for entry weighed upon my mind, I couldn’t help but think about the impact of being
vaccinated and being able to once again see my family – in person.
People were quiet, conserving their energy in the cold and perhaps apprehensive about what to expect as some of the initial Americans to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
After 15 minutes, we arrived at the community center’s door.
I was struck by how well organized the clinic was, with a staff of 75 or so helping us with our paperwork, lining us up for our turn with one of 10 people giving shots and monitoring us as we sat down long enough to be sure we weren’t having an allegoric reaction.
In all, the process took an hour.
On Monday, I went for my second dose, and I expected roughly the same experience.
No so much.
As I approached the clinic, located at the First Baptist Church of El Reno, at 11:05 a.m., I was surprised there was no line outside.
Inside, about 10 people were in line. Friendly staff, volunteers and the National Guard kept the flow going, and everyone was jovial. The staff appeared to be fewer than 50 people.
By the time I completed my paperwork, it was just a few minutes before my turn for a shot.
The woman who administered the shot said she’s a full-time health department employee, but I noticed that Guard medics also were vaccinating.
I received my shot at 11:26 a.m., just 21 minutes after I showed up.
I was chatting with the nurse, and I don’t even remember feeling the injection.
While I was waiting to see if I had an allergic reaction, I found Jan Fox, the district administrator for eight county health departments.
Fox looked more relaxed than she had when I saw her at other times throughout the pandemic, including a large meeting of public officials, health care administrators and first responders in the spring – and at the Yukon vaccination clinic on New Year’s Eve.
“Every time, we learn something and then streamline things for the next time,” she said.
A big part of the health department’s mission is to administer vaccinations – along with doing family planning, STD checks and administering WIC, a federally funded program that assists pregnant women and young mothers.
“Giving vaccinations is in our wheelhouse,” Fox said. “It’s what we do.”
The Canadian County Health Department is speeding up its vaccination program by holding clinics every weekday instead of its original pace of one a week, Fox said.
It’s fortunate to have the help of not only the Guard but also members of the Oklahoma Medical Reserve Corps, a volunteer group that responds to emergencies and disasters, and Redlands Community College nursing students.
First Baptist Church in El Reno has been a big help in providing space, Fox said.
When I got my first shot, I felt sleepy the day after. On Monday, I rested in the afternoon, and felt fine by evening.
Even at the health department’s faster pace, all appointments are booked three weeks out. Fox suggests going on the vaccine portal right after the health department posts a new schedule at 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays to claim your slot.
The best part of the process is that I’ll soon feel comfortable visiting my 4-year-old grandson (and his parents) in Madison, Wisconsin.

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