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One year later: The push for COVID-19 vaccines continues

Published: Dec. 13, 2021 at 9:21 PM EST
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - This week marks one year since COVID-19 vaccines started going into arms around the Shenandoah Valley. It has been no easy task, and one year later the work to vaccinate and educate the community continues.

Around the county, health departments, hospitals, pharmacies, and primary care physicians have played a large role in the effort over the last year, including the Central Shenandoah Health District (CSHD) and Augusta Health.

Over the last 12 months, the CSHD has given over 127,000 shots and Augusta Health has given over 100,000. When vaccines first arrived in the Valley, with them came a sense of hope.

“When we got wind that vaccines were coming and that they were good, safe, and effective, we were so excited because we were ready to move to that next step of prevention,” Issac Izzillo, the Director of COVID Vaccinations and Education with Augusta Health, said.

“It was surreal. Everybody was so excited coming in and so grateful,” Shannon Capriotti, the Manager of COVID Vaccine Clinics at Augusta Health, said.

It was all hands on deck for healthcare staff to begin the Virginia Department of Health’s phased-out vaccination plan, which was a challenge in itself.

“It was hard telling really vulnerable individuals that because they didn’t meet criteria, they couldn’t get that vaccine at that time,” Izzillo said. “That caused a lot of emotional fatigue for a lot of people and it was difficult. It was very difficult... Then having a lot of tough conversations with individuals in regard to their hesitancy.”

With a new vaccine, education was a top priority to ensure that the community had the most up-to-date and correct information to help themselves make their vaccine decision.

“We couldn’t get vaccines out fast enough to suddenly having to switch gears to really try to convince individuals to get vaccinated,” Laura Lee Wight with the CSHD, said. “[We gave] them the information that they needed to get vaccinated and really start buckling down on trying to address misinformation.”

Capriotti said they spent a lot of time listening to the community’s questions and concerns about the vaccine.

“There have been many conversations down here and after you would sit down with them and explain it, whoever it may be felt much better,” Capriotti said. “A lot of people came in uneducated about the certain vaccines, side effects, or whatever they may have heard.”

The health team, including the CSHD’s Community Information Team answered questions over the phone, in town hall events, went door-to-door in the community, and attended events around the community, all hoping to help people feel empowered to get their shot. Wight said health district staff even spoke with people outside of gas stations on several occasions.

“Sometimes it’s just a simple question that they have, where if I can answer that question, then they feel empowered to move forward with vaccination. That never gets old and it never will,” Wight said. “It’s also really gratifying to have hard conversations with community members, even if at that moment they decide they don’t want to get vaccinated, the fact that we were able to have open dialogue, talk about their concerns, address any misinformation. That’s still extremely important to be doing.”

Volunteers from around the Shenandoah Valley stepped up in this effort, too.

“We have had so many volunteers who came out of retirement or who work jobs and then come volunteer with us to help give out vaccines or provide education to the community, so it’s definitely been a whole community effort,” Wight said.

“I manage the clinic daily, so I’m down here with the volunteers every single day and they are amazing,” Capriotti said. “There are some people here every single day and our team members who are here too, so it’s been a life-changing event for many of us.”

While December marks one year since vaccine distribution began, the work does not stop here.

Around the Valley, counties and cities vary from 45% to 68% of the population being fully vaccinated. The goal is to reach 75%.

Both the CSHD and Augusta Health plan to continue working to vaccinate and educate people at schools, churches, and vulnerable communities in the Valley.

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