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'100% Super Excited': Getting Vaccinated Against COVID-19 In Concord, Vt.

Erica Heilman sits with headphones on, microphone out, gets shot in arm in a trailer.
Erica Heilman
Independent producer Erica Heilman received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a pop-up clinic at the Concord School on April 10. She spoke with other people getting their shot the same day.

Vaccination rates in Essex County have laggedbehind other areas of the state for a number of reasons. To name a few: it’s remote, there’s no pharmacy or hospital. Some people don’t have easy access to internet, or by extension, the health department website.But Calex Ambulance and Newport EMS are working to boost those numbers. They’re setting up pop-up vaccination locations in some of the remotest towns in Vermont and welcoming both signups and walk-ins.

Independent producer Erica Heilman got her vaccination in the Concord school parking lot last weekend. She got the J&J, right before the pause.

Erica: Last Saturday I got my vaccination in the Concord school parking lot. It was a popup site run by Calex Ambulance service. There were about nine people there.

Michael: My name’s Michael Wright. I’m the chief and CEO of Calex Ambulance.

Erica: Compared to other vaccine locations I would say this is a fairly intimate one.

More from VPR: Reporter Debrief: A Look Inside Lagging Vax Uptake In Essex County

Michael: Yeah. The state wanted to get more vaccine out to the folks in Essex County, so our plan today is to be here for two hours in Concord. Then we’re packing up and moving to Lunenburg for two hours and then going out to Maidstone.

"It's been delightful to talk to these folks because honestly, in some cases, we spend more than 15 minutes because they haven't seen somebody for a long time." - Michael Wright, CEO, Calex Ambulance

So we have roughly about 30-40 [appointments] scheduled, plus availability for some walk-ins with some additional vaccine.

And this is our first series in this style, of bringing it out to a town in a pop-up setting here. We’ve been doing homebound vaccines since February, so we’ve been going out and [for] folks that are not able to come to a vaccine clinic, … we go out to their homes.

We went out to Granby, Maidstone, Victory – that’s our coverage area. So some of the others very remote locations. Like Maidstone, where we’re going on our third stop today, is the furthest in the county.

Erica: So you’ve been doing home vaccines. Can you describe some of what you’ve seen?

Michael: I mean, it’s a mix of special populations, the elderly populations, that are either completely bedbound or have limitations that would cause difficulty for them to go to a clinic setting.

I think it’s really great that Vermont is offering that and working with EMS across the state to allow us to go into the homes.

More from VPR: Frequently Asked Questions (And Answers) About The COVID-19 Vaccine In Vermont

We’re perfectly set up for that setting because we do it from the EMS standpoint. So we carry the emergency stuff [so] that if someone did have a reaction, we’d monitor them for the 15 minutes…

Erica: What do you talk about for that 15 minutes?

Michael: We go through the registration process and you know, just general conversation. It’s been delightful to talk to these folks because honestly, in some cases, we spend more than 15 minutes because they haven’t seen somebody for a long time.

I can think of a lady that was out in Greensboro. She was 99-years-old, living by herself. And really the only person she’s seen through this entire pandemic was her neighbor that would come in with groceries. So in some cases we would spend a little more time.

But we also have to account for: We have a big schedule and a big day and we travel roughly between 170 an 200 miles in a day.

So we do have to excuse ourselves and get it back on the road. But it’s been rewarding. I mean it’s been very good to be able to get into these folks’ homes and give them the vaccine where otherwise they wouldn’t be able to.

Erica: What about people’s emotional reactions to this?

Michael: 100% super excited that we’re there … The very first one we gave was a lady in Maidstone and so she was ecstatic that she was getting vaccinated so early – that was in February. They are very happy that we’re there.

A red trailer sits in a parking lot by a sign-up table.
Credit Erica Heilman / VPR
At a mobile pop-up vaccine clinic in Concord on April 10, independent producer Erica Heilman was among several people to get COVID-19 vaccines.

Erica spoke with a young man and his mother, both in line to get vaccinated.

Erica: How are you feeling?

Dylan: I’m feeling good. How are you feeling?

Erica: I’m feeling a little bit nervous, to be honest with you.

Woman: Are you nervous Dylan?

Dylan: I’m not nervous.

Erica: Not at all?

Dylan: No. Not really.

Erica: Are you excited?

Dylan: I guess a little bit.

Erica: ‘Cause?

Dylan: Not really nervous or excited.

Erica: You’re pretty neutral it sounds like. Pretty aggressively neutral about all this.

Dylan: Yeah.

Erica moved on, and caught Brian, also in line.

Erica: Where are you from?

Brian: Danville.

Erica: Why’d you come all the way up here?

Brian: Because I knew the clinic was here. I’m a UPS guy and I really wanted to get a shot and I knew there was going to be some availability for walkups so I made it happen. Just got up, came right over.

Erica: What was your feeling driving here from Danville.

Brian: I would say I was excited. I really wanted to get the shot, being that I work out in the public and I interact with people all the time

And I definitely encounter people with COVID ... Sometimes I stumble upon them. You know: they’re working by themselves in an office, but they don’t have the door locked or a sign up and they think they’re OK because it says ‘No Walk-ins.’

More from VPR: Scott Administration Pauses Johnson & Johnson Vaccines 'Out Of An Abundance Of Caution'

I’m the UPS guy and they always expect me to walk in. But there’s a couple times where I felt like I got too close and that scared me, just to then spread it at home and throughout the community.

I see hundreds of people a day, so I felt it was important for me to get vaccinated and at least start building up my antibodies.

Erica: I’m surprised you weren’t considered essential. I’m surprised you weren’t in the very first pass.

Brian: So were we. We’ve been delivering it since December. I deliver COVID vaccine to the Newport hospital three-times-a-week and you know, it feels like a real special thing, me doing that. But at the same time, it’s an inconvenience for me.

The vaccine has to be delivered first, so it adds 30 minutes to my day. And when you’re already working eleven hours a day, to then add that 30 minutes to get it delivered…

It is what it is. It’s my job. But there’s a little sense of, “Darn it, I’d really like to get a shot. I wanna get dosed.'” You know?

I’ve been delivering this thing for four months. I was waiting my turn patiently and I’m coming up here, I’m going to hit the next group, but this walkup opportunity was just perfect.

"I deliver COVID vaccine to the Newport hospital three-times-a-week and you know, it feels like a real special thing, me doing that." - Brian, UPS driver from Danville

Erica: Look at where we are. I mean, we are in standing in the middle of kind of nowhere.

Brian: Beautiful. I’m looking at a playground and I’m looking at a cemetery in the background. And then we’re talking about this really scary experience we all just lived through the past year and now there’s this light in the tunnel.

I think this vaccine and this COVID and this playground and this cemetery — I think they all kind of … I don’t know …there’s something there; some visual metaphor happening right now.


But it’s beautiful still.

More from VPR: 'COVID Hit Us All So Hard': Vt. Hospice Workers Say PTSD Will Last Years

And then, it was Erica Heilman’s turn.

Woman: Do you have your paperwork?

Erica: Yes I do.

Man: Little poke.

Erica: That’s it?

Man: That’s it.

Erica: Sir, you’ve been an important person in my life.

Man: Well, thank you.

Erica: And you didn’t even know. Thank you for doing this for me.

Man: You’re welcome. If we can just have you hold up one second, we’re going to give you a vaccine card that has all the pertinent information on it.

Erica: OK.

Man: Lot number and such. And don’t lose it.

Erica was the last customer—the last grateful, emotional, relieved customer. She watched Mike and his team fold up their tables and drive off toward Lunenburg.

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Erica Heilman produces a podcast called Rumble Strip. Her shows have aired on NPR’s Day to Day, Hearing Voices, SOUNDPRINT, KCRW’s UnFictional, BBC Podcast Radio Hour, CBC Podcast Playlist and on public radio affiliates across the country. Rumble Strip airs monthly on Vermont Public. She lives in East Calais, Vermont.
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