Pick-up truck drivers pull up to a white trailer in a parking lot on Fallon Paiute-Shoshone land in Nevada’s high desert and are handed forms to sign, jabbed with coronavirus vaccine, and sent on their way.
The pop-up clinic 60 miles (96 kilometers) east of Reno is one of 28 in the state where the Federal Emergency Management Agency has dispatched mobile vaccination units to ensure people in remote rural areas and one-stop-light towns can be immunized. It’s one of the strategies being used by health officials across the country to combat dwindling interest in vaccinations. As the country struggles to achieve herd immunity, officials are setting up shop in tiny towns, churches, ballparks, strip clubs, and even marijuana dispensaries to entice people.
In Nevada, health officials admit they are unlikely to meet their initial goal of vaccinating 75 percent of the population in order to achieve herd immunity. Their northern Nevada push, ironically, is headquartered at the Reno Livestock Events Center, where 65-year-old Dan Lavely and others are showing up for shots. Lavely said he was overcome with emotion as he thanked the nurses who vaccinated him.
Two FEMA mobile trailers have traveled through Nevada to towns without pharmacies, clinics, or other vaccination sites, providing doctors, nurses, and National Guardsmen with firsthand knowledge of rural and tribal communities where residents have struggled to find vaccinations.
The trailers are outfitted with ultra-cold refrigerators powered by generators-on-wheels to keep the vaccine fresh. On Monday, the two mobile clinics completed six-week loops through Nevada, including a return to finish two-shot regimens in the state that stretches from Boston to Baltimore and Buffalo, New York. The initial goal was to vaccinate 250 people per day at each stop. However, the figures have changed as vaccine supply has increased and demand has decreased.
Gerlach, for example, is more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the nearest pharmacy in Reno-Sparks. With a population of only 34 people, it was once home to a thriving gypsum mine on the outskirts of the desert, which attracts 80,000 visitors each year for the Burning Man Festival. The desolate landscape was featured in the Academy Award-winning film “Nomadland” this year. Almost half of Nevada’s eligible population has received at least an initial COVID-19 vaccination. However, rates have varied across the country.
According to the state, roughly half of those eligible in Clark and Washoe counties, which are home to Las Vegas and Reno, respectively, have received at least one dose. The rate has been roughly half that in Eureka and Elko counties, while Storey County has only seen a 15% rate.
As infection rates fall and the state moves further away from the pandemic’s peak, officials acknowledge that convincing vaccine-skeptics to get shots will be difficult. As a result, officials have been preparing similar pop-up events in urban centers, suburban neighborhoods, and unconventional venues ranging from a Las Vegas strip club to a Sparks truck stop along an interstate that runs to Utah in the aftermath of the FEMA effort.
Nevada has long had some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. According to the CDC, it improved to fifth-worst last year, with 42 percent of adults vaccinated against the flu. Part of the current outreach effort is aimed at the 340,000 people who received flu shots but have yet to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. Nevada is fine-tuning its messaging in light of a better understanding of why some people are still hesitant to get shots. Much of the attention has thus far been focused on cultural and historical barriers that make certain groups less open to vaccinations, but for many, it may simply come down to convenience.
The latest ad campaign, according to Jackie Shelton, a vice president with the public relations firm Nevada hired to help promote vaccine equity and outreach, will “show people who look like you — peers who are getting the vaccine and why.”
Future promotional ideas include holding raffles for residents who are fully vaccinated by July 4. Colorado, Maryland, Ohio, New York, and Oregon are just a few of the states that have lottery prizes in excess of $5 million.
Vaccinate To target specific populations, Nevada is planning vaccination pop-ups at breweries, churches, and parks, complete with swag like water bottles, and scheduling them to coincide with holidays like Juneteenth.