Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition Segments

To Speed Up COVID-19 Vaccinations, Leaders Are Turning To The National Guard

 January 20, 2021 at 11:49 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 More than a dozen States have called up the national guard to try to speed up the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations and president elect Biden may mobilize the guard nationally, Jay price of the American Homefront project visited a vaccination site in Elizabeth city, North Carolina, where the troops are already making a difference. Speaker 2: 00:22 This high school parking lot has been transformed into kind of a vaccine freeway, four lines of cars creeped towards teams of guard soldiers, working shoulder to shoulder with health department nurses, Michael bark, lift a behavioral coach for the local school system rolls to a stop and kills his engine. His major Hollis Gunther walks up. Hi, sir. So this is an information card for you to keep Alma and let you fill out your information up here today. You're going to get the maternal vaccination, which basically means in a month, you're going to want to get the maternal booster shot. Okay. Forklift said he had some initial reservations about the vaccine, but educated himself on it. I've been, you know, kind of locked in other people and talking to different people until I feel very confident in it today after Gunther is finished, giving him instructions about the vaccine bark lift pulls forward a few feet where tech Sergeant Steven Simpson is waiting with a hypodermic needle. Speaker 2: 01:18 And I'm going to go ahead and administer this vaccine. Slight pinch Gunther said as an emergency room nurse practitioner in his civilian life, he's worn down from the pandemic sick of seeing people suffering and dying from it. But helping out with the vaccine effort has given him a lift. It's almost like being on the offensive for a change in a working in emergency departments has just been a beating over the last honestly year. And so now just trying to get up ahead of this infection, you know, get the world back to eating out again and seeing grandma and you know, not going to funerals as guard troops, work with health department nurses, vaccinating drivers, and passengers, other soldiers across town, or processing the paperwork for each appointment. The director of Albemarle regional health service battle beds says it was a huge relief for his small staff to get the guards, help Speaker 1: 02:16 Training their background. This is perfectly in their wheelhouse. And so it is helping tremendously to pull a lot more people through the lines and a much more efficient process. Speaker 2: 02:27 His organization is responsible for eight counties, the smaller ones each have just two nurses who can do vaccinations on top of their other work already worn down from nearly a year of fighting the pandemic. They face a daunting challenge, vaccinating, a population of 160,000 people twice. Speaker 1: 02:47 You're really talking about 320,000 immunizations because you got to get all those folks back for that second dose. Speaker 2: 02:53 These clinics are part of the largest immunization effort in us history. And come after year that saw the most guard troops activated nationally since world war two. And like the health department nurses, the guard has had to cope with pandemic duty while also covering it's normal. Speaker 3: 03:11 At one point in time, we had almost a thousand soldiers that we called up and we knew that's not sustainable forever, you know, because of the pandemic. And then, you know, national guardsmen and airman also have civilian jobs, Speaker 2: 03:24 Your general Todd hunt, as the adjutant general of the North Carolina national guard. He says that while duty for things like hurricane recovery typically lasts a few days. The pandemic is a long effort. So instead of ordering people to duty the guard called for volunteers, Speaker 3: 03:39 And we put them on orders for a specific amount of time based upon, you know, their needs and our needs as well. So we've had to adapt and how we do military business to take care of our soldiers and airmen, and also the people that are out there that we're supporting. Speaker 2: 03:55 It's a busy time for the North Carolina guard, besides those activated for the pandemic hundreds more we're called up to Washington DC and the state Capitol because of potential civil unrest. That duty is expected to be brief. Unlike the pandemic I'm Jay price reporting. Speaker 1: 04:13 This story was produced by the American Homefront project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans funding comes from the corporation for public broadcasting.

Ways To Subscribe
More than a dozen states have called up the National Guard to help at vaccination sites, and Joe Biden may mobilize Guard units nationally.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments