SF County ambulance a vital cog in vaccination program

Santa Fe County Assistant Fire Chief Martin Vigil, director of the Office of Emergency Management for Santa Fe County, oversees a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Santa Fe Fairgrounds in May 21. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Homebound residents in Santa Fe County are getting a shot at the COVID-19 vaccine thanks to a Santa Fe County Fire Department program.

In partnership with the New Mexico Health Department, the county uses its Med 30 ambulance to get to homebound residents and give them their COVID-19 vaccinations. Since the program started May 7, it has vaccinated 10 county residents.

Most homebound patients are over 80 years old and received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, volunteer firefighter paramedic Adam Stively said.

“We truly did see that these people were homebound,” Stively said. “Some of them were actually bedridden, and some of them very functional, but could not leave the house because they were the caregiver for the bedridden person.”

The vaccination program is run primarily by fire department volunteers, Stively said, so career staff are available for 911 calls. The Med 30 paramedics must wait at the residence 15 to 30 minutes after the vaccination in case of a reaction.

He said the health department lets them know who’s in need of the vaccine. On the health department’s vaccination registration website, people can indicate if they’re homebound due to transportation, health or a disability.

“So, this is a new niche because it’s a problem that we identified and there’s not a team that goes out to do home (vaccinations),” Stively said.

Stively said the department can do the vaccinations without an added cost or staff because Med 30 runs as a volunteer ambulance. He said doing the vaccination program is rewarding because firefighters don’t get to see the homebound population every day and they’ve developed an appreciation for this group of people.

Jackie Lindsey, Santa Fe County Fire Department chief, said the Med 30 program gives volunteers a consistent schedule to work, a chance to get to know one another and supplements the department’s career team.

“Like we say in emergency management, you don’t want to be handing off a business card at the disaster, you need to get to know each other before the emergency,” Lindsey said.

She said the ambulance doesn’t have specialty freezers to store vaccines long term, but transports doses to people as needed. The ambulance has vaccinated people from Edgewood to Española in a single day.

But Med 30 isn’t the county’s only vaccination vehicle.

Martin Vigil, assistant fire chief, said he repurposed a mobile health van for vaccination events throughout the county. The van has been operational for several months since its debut at a vaccination event at the Santa Fe Place Mall.

On its own, the van can set up a full vaccination drive-through or a walk-up event. It also has barricades to help direct traffic, and a conventional freezer and two refrigerators to store vaccines temporarily.

Having the freezers and refrigerators extends the operational window of the vaccines. This means the van can travel to rural areas to distribute vaccines, Vigil said. The van also has internet connectivity and other medical equipment, including trauma packs, oxygen and even an active shooter kit, he said.

“Santa Fe County – it’s 2,000 square miles,” he said. “We knew that accessibility was going to need to be part of the plan. Not everybody was going to be able to come in for the mass events that we’ve had around the state.”

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