PROSPECT — Ronald Hilbert Locklear “dreaded” the days leading up to his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
“I dreaded coming ‘cause I don’t like getting a shot ‘cause of an experience when I was young,” the 76-year-old Evans Crossing Community resident said.
It wasn’t until he arrived at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s mobile clinic, parked outside Prospect United Methodist Church on Thursday that those fears subsided. Once on-site Locklear was greeted and educated by UNCP faculty staff, and a nursing students. One student administered the shot.
“They were cordial, nice, friendly, and the guy giving me the shot — I didn’t feel a thing,” Locklear said. “I would have never thought the experience would have been like this. I didn’t anticipate it.”
He will tell his family of the experience in the hope that they will be inclined to get vaccinated, Locklear said.
Choosing the church as a location was key to reaching people like Locklear, minorities living in rural communities throughout Robeson County who had fears and doubts about the vaccine.
“African Americans, Hispanics and American Indians have a low vaccination rate, so we wanted to find a way to engage that community and say ‘Listen, we’re here for you, we’re from the area, we’re safe. Let’s do this,’” said Todd Telemeco, dean of the College of Health Sciences at UNCP.
What aided the college in being able to reach those communities are the mobile clinics that were bought with the help of COVID-19 relief funding from the state.
Through the relief funding program, $2 million was allotted to UNCP’s Department of Nursing, allowing for the purchase of four vehicles for use as mobile vaccine clinics.
“That’s what allowed us to purchase the vehicles and then design these,” Telemeco said of the buses.
The mobile unit on hand Thursday was bought used and fitted with a reception area, lab and treatment area, and a restroom that meets Americans With Disabilities Act specifications.
The units soon will be Wi-Fi capable, which will only expand its usage, Telemeco said. Once the pandemic subsides the goal is to repurpose the buses for community outreach efforts for health care, social support and financial literacy.
“We can use them for other things, like education for diabetes or COPD, or we can do counseling programs and social work,” Telemeco said. “We plan to take these out and offer a variety of services to the community depending on what the communities are.”
“If the community reaches out and says we need x, y and z, these buses can help. We designed them intentionally to have multiple purposes. When you go into there it looks like clinic but we can take that stuff, hide it and turn it into classrooms,” he added.
In addition to offering services to the community, the mobile clinics have given nursing students the opportunity to get out and obtain real-world experiences that will prepare them for their future careers.
Jasmine Powell said while learning about pandemics through her studies she would have never guessed she would have firsthand experience so soon.
“We learned about that the semester before all of this happened,” Powell said. “We weren’t expecting it, but I think we were definitely prepared. Not many people can say they graduated nursing school through a pandemic, so that may set us a part.”
In the past year, she has participated in antibody serology testing and conducted a public service announcement for people with hypertension going through the pandemic.
Having the opportunity to administer the vaccine herself, with the help of the mobile vaccine clinic, has set her apart even more as a student.
“I think just making situations like this easy for people to get is great for community outreach,” Powell said.
Elizabeth Ferrer, also a senior nursing student, said a mobile clinic “gives us good interaction with the community.”
“I think it’s cool,” Ferrer said. “Not a lot of people get the opportunity to do something like this. It’s cool as a senior student to be a part of something that has never been done before.”
With the skills she have obtained, Ferrer will be moving on to work for Duke University Medical Center once she graduates. Powell has two interviews with Duke and at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Telemeco said that, from an educator’s perspective, the opportunity nursing students are getting is “powerful.”
“You can sit in the classroom and show them a model but they’re not actually doing it,” Telemeco said. “These opportunities are unique opportunities through COVID. COVID has not been great, let’s face it, but it has presented opportunities for us to get our students in unique situations and a unique perspective in clinical practice.”
To date UNCP has allotted/shipped out 300 vaccines and have distributed them all with the help of the units.
“When we thought about this project our only focus was to serve our communities and serve our students. That was our two goals and its going to do more than that,” Telemeco said. “It’s been really remarkable to be the beacon of hope for our rural communities.”
The next stops for the mobile clinic are in Red Springs and Fairmont.
On Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. the clinic will be at the St. Joseph Miracle Revival Center, located at 4657 Daniel McLeod Road in Red Springs. Appointments are available every 15 minutes. To register for a vaccine appointment, call Zenorvera Leak at 910-843-9093.
Fairmont First Baptist Church, located at 301 North Main St., will be the stop on March 20 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Appointments are available every 15 minutes. To register for a vaccine appointment, call Michelle Bethea at 910-599-2317.
To receive a vaccine, individuals must be eligible under current N.C. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines.
Tomeka Sinclair can be reached at [email protected] or 910-416-5865.