With 80% of adults over 18 fully vaccinated in Teton County, vaccinated individuals now make up the majority of the community. Now health officials are launching an innovative vaccination effort to further increase the community protection from COVID-19.
“The whole goal is to try to get to the people, to make it easier for people,” Public Health Response Coordinator Rachael Wheeler said.
The Health Department’s new “Vaxi Taxi,” a repurposed START bus turned mobile vaccine clinic, aims to increase access to COVID-19 vaccines by reaching outlying populations that are unable to get their shots at the Health Department in town.
“Having a more mobile unit where we can easily set up inside that unit becomes really convenient for us,” Wheeler said.
Nurses check in patients under a tent outside the bus and ask patients about any potential COVID-19 symptoms or recent contact with infected individuals. Nurses also patiently describe side effects they might experience after the vaccine, usually a sore arm and mild fever.
Patients then head onto the Vaxi Taxi, where they receive their shots in the seats passengers have generally used for transportation. The Vaxi Taxi sports two tables that can be set up and put away with ease, seats for vaccine recipients, medical forms and equipment for vaccine distribution, and a team of friendly professionals waiting to administer the vaccines.
Outside, chairs are spaced out beneath a tent so recipients can rest in the shade for the waiting period after their shots.
The health department has used mobile clinics in the past to help public outreach for flu vaccines. Usually, their mobile clinics simply transport supplies to vaccination sites like the Senior Center of Jackson Hole.
Operating out of the Vaxi Taxi allows the team to hold clinics at more locations around the valley as well as more efficient set ups and easy clean up.
Bryce Villalobos, a station agent at the Jackson Hole Airport, got his vaccine in the Vaxi Taxi on Monday evening in the parking lot of the Jackson airport. Getting his shot at work was bittersweet because Teton County’s first COVID-19 fatality was Bill Sweney, an airport employee who Villalobos had worked with personally.
For some members of the community, like Villalobos, it can be more challenging to arrange vaccine appointments due to lack of transportation or scheduling conflicts that prevent them from visiting the Health Department clinic while it is open. By offering extra opportunities and sites for vaccinations the Vaxi Taxi addresses those barriers to care.
“I’ve been working 12- to 13-hour days, I didn’t have time to schedule an appointment,” Villalobos said.
No appointments are needed for the Vaxi Taxi, so anyone is welcome to show up at any stop on the route. Detailed schedule information is available at TetonCountyWY.gov/vaxitaxi.
The mobile clinic offers both the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. The Moderna vaccine is a two-dose regimen, while the Johnson & Johnson shot is just one. Both are available for people 18 and older.
Anyone under 18 will need the Pfizer shot, which is only available at the Health Department because it requires cold storage.
The Vaxi Taxi is also working directly with employers and encourages employers who are interested to coordinate with the Health Department to bring the Vaxi Taxi to their business.
“Some businesses have already reached out to us specifically, so we are going to them and we’ll just continue reaching out to different businesses to see where the demand is,” Wheeler said.
On Wednesday the Vaxi Taxi will head south with stops at Hoback Market and The Bird.
“It’s important to public health to increase equity and access,” Wheeler said. “We feel like the Vaxi Taxi is doing exactly that.”