Local Holiday Vaccination Events Find Success in Rural Appalachia

Volunteers and staff from the Health Wagon, a nonprofit health outreach organization in Clintwood, Virginia, did not know what kind of turnout to expect for their October COVID-19 and flu vaccination event—Hallelujah Harvest Night. Their county was experiencing an extremely high COVID-19 transmission rate—and with only 43 percent of the local population fully vaccinated, far too many residents were left unprotected.

The Health Wagon has been providing free quality health care to medically underserved people in the Appalachia region of Virginia for over 40 years. With support from the CDC Foundation through the Partnering for Vaccine Equity program, the organization has recently been working to increase COVID-19 and influenza vaccinations.

For the October event, people were invited to “Trunk or Treat” by driving through to collect Halloween candy from Health Wagon staff wearing festive costumes. Participants were given the opportunity to be vaccinated by health professionals on site without having to leave their cars.

Though the event was scheduled to begin at 5:00PM, the Health Wagon team was surprised to find cars of families lining up at 3:30PM. Health Wagon President and CEO, Dr. Teresa Tyson, wearing a cat costume, and clinical director Dr. Paula Hill-Collins, dressed as Snow White, rolled up their sleeves and administered many of the vaccines themselves.

“I couldn’t believe how many cars were lined up; it was great to see that kind of positive response from the community,” Tyson said. “In some cases, we were able to vaccinate multiple generations of a family in a single car—ranging all the way up to 95 years old!”

Health Wagon Community Outreach Coordinator Sarah Schrader described the atmosphere as friendly and interactive. Schrader, a new mom herself, spent time talking with a pregnant woman who had concerns about getting her first COVID-19 vaccine dose.

“I was pregnant when I received my series of shots back in March, so it was a really unique connection she and I shared,” Schrader said. “Our team had a lot of one-on-one interactions throughout the night, and it was awesome to see an open and constant discussion between our staff and the community.”

By the time the event was over, the Health Wagon had vaccinated 215 adults for COVID-19, and another 75 for the flu—an incredible success for this rural county with a population of less than 15,000 people. Hallelujah Harvest Night was so successful, that the Health Wagon followed up with a similar drive-through community vaccination event on the day before Thanksgiving, where they administered approximately 200 more COVID-19 vaccines.

“We were able to vaccinate about 450 people in less than a month,” Tyson said. “The success of these events has given me hope and inspiration that we as a community can come together and make real progress toward getting everyone protected and move beyond this pandemic.”

Federal funding for this project is supported through cooperative agreement 1 NH23IP922652-01-00 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) totaling $25,660,048 with 100 percent funding from CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by CDC/HHS, or the U.S. Government

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Ruth O’Neill is a senior communications officer for the CDC Foundation’s department of infectious disease programs.