A group of Virginia Tech students and faculty, in partnership with the Virginia Department of Health, are working to make vaccines more available to the community with mobile vaccine clinics and the COVID vaccine car.
As the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, circulates throughout Virginia, it is more important than ever that people get vaccinated to help protect the vulnerable in their community like children and those who are immunocompromised.
The mobile vaccine clinics are a partnership between the Virginia Tech represented by the COVID-19 Crushers, New River Health District (NRHD), VDH, the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM), and the New River Valley Public Health Task Force that aims to make COVID-19 vaccinations easy, safe, and accessible while providing vaccine education to the community. The COVID-19 Crushers have held 11 vaccine clinics and vaccinated more than 600 people in the New River Valley community.
“We were so excited to be onsite again at Claytor Lake to provide the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines for free so that our community members have a choice and convenient access to COVID-19 vaccine education,” said India Collins, a medical assistant from VDH. “Our mobile vaccine clinics have been successful to help get underserved community members and those with vaccine hesitancy concerns vaccinated. We meet the community members where they are at, and our clinics provide a relaxed setting where people can be more receptive to vaccine education and outreach.”
The grassroots effort is being facilitated by the COVID-19 Crushers, a dedicated group of undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty ambassadors from Virginia Tech helping to spread facts, not fear, about the coronavirus in the New River Valley.
“Many people come to the lake with their family and friends, so we are able to educate and vaccinate large groups of people at a time. This helps protect our community as a whole. We have doctors on staff from VCOM who are able to talk with patients about their concerns,” said Fernanda Gutierrez , one of the founding members of the COVID-19 Crushers and a Master of Public Health graduate student from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine who has been integral in getting these mobile vaccine clinics operational. “We are grateful to Virginia Tech, the TECH Together Campaign, and the Town of Blacksburg for providing us with funding. The COVID vaccine car helps us transport supplies to our mobile vaccination clinics.”
Gutierrez and Teagan Neveldine from the COVID-19 Crushers and Carla Finkielstein, an associate professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC provide support to Spanish speakers at the mobile vaccination clinics and have created COVID-19 education and outreach materials in Spanish and English that are accessible to nonnative speakers with the help of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute communications team. Gutierrez and Neveldine have shared and displayed these materials at workplaces and community centers around the New River Valley.
Gutierrez, Neveldine, Finkielstein, and the COVID-19 Crushers have been instrumental in mobilizing the Hispanic community in the New River Valley and getting them vaccinated.
“I am so impressed with these students,” said Finkielstein, an associate professor of biological sciences and director of the Virginia Tech Molecular Diagnostics Lab in Roanoke. “Fernanda and Teagan have knocked on the door of every restaurant and grocery store in the New River Valley encouraging owners and their staff to get vaccinated. They have arranged mobile clinics, rides to vaccination sites, and texted individuals one by one to ensure they make their second dose appointments.”
Seth Coble, a community member who was vaccinated at the mobile vaccine clinic at Claytor Lake on July 24, said, “the vaccine was very accessible. I got the vaccine to help protect my community and to do my part to help the pandemic end more quickly.”
Mobile vaccine clinic staff members are selecting their vaccination sites by looking for areas where they can make vaccines easily accessible to remote areas, underserved populations, and people who lack access to transportation. “Our education and outreach and mobile vaccine clinics allow us to meet community members where they are. We have set up mobile vaccine clinics at local mobile homes, restaurants, construction sites, and created drive-thru clinics to make vaccination more accessible to everyone in the community,” said Neveldine.
The mobile vaccination clinics are funded in part by the TECH Together Campaign and the Town of Blacksburg. The TECH Together Campaign, which launched in July 2020, called upon the creativity and innovation of Virginia Tech students to implement real change, from infrastructure changes to new services, which not only prevented the spread of COVID-19, but also provided comfort to students and faculty on campus and reliable information to the community.
Ron Fricker, professor of statistics and interim dean of the College of Science, and Laura Hungerford, professor and head of the Department of Population Health Sciences in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, created the TECH Together Campaign as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the largest public health challenges of our time.
The campaign was sponsored by the COVID-19 Rapid Response Seed Fund, a joint effort from the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment; the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science; the Fralin Life Sciences Institute; the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology; and the Office of the Vice President for Research.
The mobile COVID car team was one of the winning teams from the TECH Together Campaign. It was the brainchild of undergraduate Virginia Tech students Amber Douglas, Prince Wang, Nate Doggett, and David Petrulis, and they were supported by facility mentor Eric Martin, assistant professor of practice, Department of Accounting and Information Systems in the Pamplin College of Business. This team was remarkably persistent; even after hitting numerous roadblocks they continued to look for new angles and ways to use what they learned to support the efforts of the COVID-19 Crushers in delivering tests to the New River Valley.
But as testing slowed and demand for vaccinations increased, the team shifted their focus to supporting the COVID-19 Crushers and bringing vaccinations to people who, for one reason or another, had difficulty getting to vaccination sites.
“Last summer, the TECH Together competition empowered innovative ideas from students all over campus. This summer, their efforts, like the COVID Car, are continuing to benefit our extended community, said Hungerford, who is also a leader on the New River Valley Public Health Force.
Other leaders on the New River Valley Public Health Task Force include Matt Hulver, executive director of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute at Virginia Tech; Blacksburg Police Chief Anthony Wilson; Noelle Bissell, director of the New River Health District; Carla Finkielstein; and Ron Fricker.
For a list of where to get vaccinated and future mobile vaccine clinics, please visit https://www.com/where-to-get-vaccinated
If you are having trouble finding transportation, are homebound, need a translator, or your work schedule is restrictive, please call the New River Health District Vaccine Hotline at 540-838-8222, and they will help get you vaccinated.