Southern Teton Area Rapid Transit (START)

A START bus will become a vaccine clinic.

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Teton County has reached the point of the vaccination campaign where you’re either on the bus or off the bus.

In an effort to vaccinate seasonal and hard-to-reach populations, the Teton County Health Department will employ a mobile vaccination clinic using a spare START bus. County commissioners discussed and approved the idea Monday.

“We’ll be doing two teams,” Director of Health Jodie Pond said. “So one team will be going out into the community and doing outreach events with the bus. And the second team will continue to give shots at the Health Department.”

Health departments around the country have added mobile clinics, taking them to sporting events, breweries, grocery stores and basically any place they can reach people. Vaccination rates have slowed, as the eager people have had the chance to get their shots.

In Teton County, the vaccination numbers are encouraging but still below health officials’ goal. According to a New York Times vaccine tracker that pulls data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 65% of all Teton County residents have been fully vaccinated.

Broken down by eligible age groups, the numbers are rosier. For people 65 and older, the county’s vaccination rate is 80%, and that number is 78% for residents 18 and older.

Kids between 12 and 15 recently became eligible for the use of Pfizer’s vaccine, which was already approved for people 16 and up. In Teton County, 74% of residents 12 and up are fully immunized.

Those numbers led County Commissioner Mark Barron to ask whether the mobile vaccination clinic was necessary. After all, among eligible age groups, the county has nearly met the 80% goal it hopes to reach by the end of July.

However, Pond told him that employers are looking for a mobile clinic to help workers who might find it hard to get to the Health Department in East Jackson.

“Our feedback from employers is that they would like us to come to their location so that they would get a better response than asking people to come into town,” she said.

Using a START bus as a clinic will require the Health Department (or probably the bus maintenance team) to remove seats to make room. The bus that will be used isn’t currently in rotation and driving around town. Messenger RNA vaccines, which require two doses, and the single-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine will be available.

Part of the agreement says the clinic won’t be operational while the bus is moving, Deputy County Attorney Keith Gingery said.

“You’re not driving around with people getting shots,” he told commissioners. “It goes places, they stop, people get on, they get their shots, and they get off. And then the bus goes to another location.”

Like with many other pieces of the pandemic response, federal aid filtered through the state is the likely funding source. The state still has money from the earlier CARES Act, and the Biden administration passed the American Rescue Plan early in its tenure.

From that pair of bills, Pond said, the state has told her that costs for the mobile clinics will be reimbursed. That will allow her team to go to a variety of places, including Grand Teton National Park, summer events and anywhere else unvaccinated people may be.

The county commission unanimously approved the clinics.

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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