'It's exhausting': County health department hopes to see more get the COVID vaccine

Katelyn Waltemyer
Jackson Newspapers
Bobby Rice, a Memphis Fire Department firefighter paramedic, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to an inmate at the Shelby County Corrections Department in Memphis, Tenn., on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021.

The Jackson County Health Department has been in the midst of a storm for 20 months, and Sanitarian Amy Haskins isn't sure when her staff will get a much-needed breath of fresh air. 

Haskins has worked seven days a week for 19 of the 20 months since COVID entered the county. She leaves work as late as 1 a.m. some nights and spends most of her days dealing with COVID-related tasks, like contact tracing and filing paperwork for people missing school or work because of the virus. 

"It's exhausting," Haskins said. "We try when we can to rotate weekends but that's not always possible when you have anywhere between 35 and 50 positive [COVID-19 cases] coming in the day." 

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Work lasts up to 18 hours a day now for Haskins. Employees aren't able to begin contact tracing until after the department closes at 4 p.m. because the phones ring nonstop during business hours. 

The county health department has the same amount of employees it did prior to the pandemic six. On top of its regularly offered services like STD testing, family planning and vaccine clinics, the six employees are now tasked with mitigating the spread of COVID-19. 

The department began administering third doses to immunocompromised residents the last week of August. Now it's almost two weeks into administering boosters to the general public that meets certain guidelines.

There is no difference in third doses and booster shots, Haskins said. The difference in verbiage simply allows healthcare workers to recognize which patients are top priority. 

Haskins said the department orders the vaccines a week at a time. This week they ordered nearly 200 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. 

To get a booster you must:

  • Be at least 18 years old 
  • Bring your vaccination card 
  • Have had two doses of Pfizer prior to April 1 and;
  • Reside in a long-term care facility
  • Have underlying medical conditions
  • Work in a high-risk setting: first response, education, food and agriculture, manufacturing, postal service, public transit

The CDC encourages people to get the flu vaccine by the end of October. Both the flu and COVID vaccines can be administered during one appointment if the patient desires. Jackson County Health Department will have a drive-thru flu vaccine clinic Saturday, Oct. 9 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

As of Oct. 7, just 49.2% of Jackson County's population is fully vaccinated, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources. 

"We're always willing to have discussions with people who are hesitant," Haskins said. "If they are hesitant because of particular concerns, I would encourage them to call us, call a pharmacist here in town and kind of discuss those concerns with someone so that they can get firsthand information from individuals who are administering the vaccine and we can kind of shed some light on, maybe why they shouldn't have the concerns that they do."

The county's percent positivity sat at 13.56% and its infection rate was 72.99 on Oct. 6. The local health department will continue to work diligently because of how much its employees care about the community, Haskins said. 

Haskins wishes the vaccination rate was higher, but she believes taking the vaccine is an individual's choice. 

"Every day we're having more and more people, either get infected that are unvaccinated," Haskins said. "I think just this week we've lost several Jackson County residents to COVID-19. The more that we can have vaccinated in the community, the less we will see people having to suffer."

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— Katelyn Waltemyer (she/her) is the General Assignment and Enterprise Reporter for Jackson Newspapers in Jackson County, West Virginia. Have a news tip on local government or education? Or a good feature? You can reach Katelyn at kwaltemyer@jacksonnewspapers.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kate_Waltemyer.