Since December 22, 2020, the Polk County Vaccine Coalition has administered more than 16,800 first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Many of these vaccines have been administered in mass vaccination clinics in and around Polk County.
The work to prepare for these mass clinics began in earnest during the fall of 2020 with a handful of organizations that would start the Polk County Vaccine Coalition.
The Coalition had two main objectives to address before vaccine could be given out – enough vaccine supply and a clinic location for a massive number of people. Initially local hospitals, community health centers and public health offices were able to become providers of the vaccine per the CDC rollout plan for the general community. St. Luke’s Hospital was a key partner in making sure Polk County had multiple options for vaccine supply by signing up to be an initial provider. St. Luke’s was also the host location of several community vaccine clinics to help support the vaccination of hundreds of community members.
“Our patients are encouraged to receive the safe and extremely effective vaccine. With each vaccine administered, we are one person closer to ending this pandemic,” said Dr. Jeff Viar, Foothills Medical Associates.
In addition, Blue Ridge Health and Polk County Health and Human Services added to the provider pool by becoming vaccine providers. When the community supply of vaccine was reduced and no new doses were coming to Polk County, both St. Luke’s and Blue Ridge Health leveraged their regional footprints to obtain enough doses to help the clinics stay open.
As the weather became more of a concern to maintain these clinics, Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) opened its facilities to the community and has been hosting vaccine clinics at its indoor arena. TIEC’s large campus also meant the coalition was able to bring in hundreds of people in just hours instead of days.
“These mass clinics are a huge undertaking and require significant investment of resources from our community partners who have banded together to the serve the community in a timely fashion,” said Joshua Kennedy, Polk County Health and Human Services Agency Director. “We are grateful to all of the partners who helped plan and launch these clinics over the past four months.
“Now that we are seeing more healthcare provider locations, such as pharmacies and doctors’ offices, providing routine access to the vaccine, the Vaccine Coalition will begin shifting their efforts from the mass vaccine clinics to more widespread and smaller operations throughout the community, such as grocery stores, sports venues, community centers, places of employment, etc. Also COVID-19 vaccine providers will be holding additional regular office hours at local healthcare offices.”
Anyone age 16 and over (18 for Moderna vaccines) is now eligible to receive a vaccine. Those wanting a COVID-19 vaccine, first or second dose, will be able to receive one at the following sites in Polk County:
• Foothills Pharmacy is providing vaccine clinics Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., no appointment needed.
• Polk County EMS and Health and Human Services’ Public Health team is holding vaccine clinics Mondays and Fridays by appointment. Appointments can be made by calling 828-722-5086.
• Blue Ridge Health Services Columbus Office continues to hold regular office hours on Fridays for vaccines. Appointments can be made by calling 828-894-2222.
• Sites will be offering Moderna. Both sites will also have access to Johnson & Johnson when supply permits. Days and times are subject to change
Because the vaccines are free and there is not a residency requirement, anyone can obtain a vaccine at locations in Polk County.
To assist the community further with access to the vaccine, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and Polk County Health and Human Services Agency (Polk HHSA) will post vaccine clinic information on their websites for community members. In addition, Polk County’s Community Paramedic and Polk County Public Health staff will be moving around the county in the coming days to distribute information on the vaccines and provide details on additional clinic sites.
The transition may mean less volunteers in one location at one time, but there is still a significant level of work behind the scenes to keep the community safe and informed. The past several months of vaccine distribution were successful thanks to the help of Polk County School Nurses and Polk County Library staff. Both groups have been assisting in keeping the community safe since the beginning of the pandemic.
“We could not be more fortunate in this community to have such dedicated school employees willing to spend days and nights responding back to the concerns of the students and families when the pandemic started,” Kennedy said. “If it were not for their efforts in assisting with the contact tracing, getting food to those in need, and calling on families to comfort them we certainly would have had harder time of keeping the community safe.”
Throughout the pandemic counties across the United States struggled to keep up with phone calls. To help keep up with the non-medical questions, Polk County Library staff jumped in to help organize the COVID-19 message line responses. As the vaccine became available they moved into the field to assist with traffic control at the clinics.
The efforts to protect the community and CRUSH COVID could not have happened without the partners on the Vaccine Coalition. In addition to those listed above, the following organizations made the last mile of distribution a reality:
• Polk County EMS and Emergency Management helped ensure there were safe and effective testing options and continued with safe and effective vaccine operations. Polk County’s Community Paramedic Program is the universal support structure for the operations with testing, vaccinating, food deliveries to those quarantined/isolated, and has conducted well-checks to those suffering from COVID-19.
• With more than 16,800 visits, traffic concerns and safety were of the utmost concern of the Coalition. Polk Sheriff’s Department helped to ensure every event was safe and welcoming.
• Foothills Pharmacy provided routine updates on the federal allocation program that was supporting the pharmacies across the state. Foothills Pharmacy was one of the first pharmacies in the county to begin distribution of Johnson & Johnson.
• White Oak Manor partnered with the Coalition as the Long-term Care Facility representative. Their input was essential into making sure the transition from the federal vaccine distribution program to local options were successful.
• Columbus Medical acted as the representative for local physicians and to answer questions from the community regarding the vaccine distribution and access.
• Mountain Area Health Coalition supplied both equipment and personnel on a number of occasions.
• Throughout the response to COVID the message line received numerous offers of help from the community. Dozens of community volunteers rallied to support and care for their neighbor. Polk County’s generosity is exemplified by these volunteers.
Community members are at greater risk of spreading and contracting COVID-19 when mixing households and congregating for periods of time greater than 15 minutes. Polk HHSA encourages the use of the 3 W’s to protect themselves and others from COVID-19. Follow the three W’s: Wait 6 feet apart, Wear face covering when indoor public spaces, Wash your hands regularly or use hand sanitizer.
If you have any questions at this time or anytime during the vaccine distribution period, please contact Polk County COVID-19 message line at 828-722-5086.