Members of the Knox County Board of Public Health on Wednesday officially brought COVID-19 nurse Betty Lankford on permanently as they work to transition the vaccine clinic back home to the health department.

The county hired Lankford, then a retired nurse, to coordinate the off-site COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Community United Methodist Church on Hart Street Road late last year. It was expected to be a temporary position, but as staffing changes have occurred at the health department’s immunization clinic in the months since, Lankford has been invited —perhaps begged — to stay on indefinitely.

“She has done an outstanding job, I really don’t know what we would have done without her,” county health officer Dr. Alan Stewart boasted of Lankford to members of the board as they met at Good Samaritan. “Public health is all about nothing happening at all, trying to prevent it.

“And Betty has always gone the extra mile.”

For months, the department operated its vaccine clinic at the church but closed that operation on May 21 after traffic to the large location dwindled to a daily trickle.

The clinic is now set up at the health department, located at 305 S. Fifth St., but Lankford told the board it’s been an adjustment.

The space is smaller, she said, and it’s been difficult to coordinate hours with the Indiana Department of Health, which handles the statewide online scheduling system.

“We’ve done a lot of bobbing and weaving,” she said. “Every day is different.”

They plan to continue giving both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccinations on different days — in an effort to not waste unused vaccine — but due to the number of continued walk-ins, they are trying to remain flexible.

Health officials, too, had hoped to quickly discontinue the use of the Moderna vaccine in favor of Pfizer as it comes just five doses to a vial compared to the other’s 15, but since people are still requesting it, they’ve decided to postpone that move, at least for awhile.

The good news, however, is that the new location is bringing new faces.

“We are reaching a population of people we hadn’t before,” she told the board. “People are walking to the health department. Maybe the health department is closer to them than the church or maybe they’re just more comfortable going there.

“We’re not sure, but we are finally seeing a population of people we’ve been wanting to see for a long time.”

Lankford, too, said the clinic is seeing “quite a few” children between the ages of 12-15, who are now approved to receive the vaccine.

“We didn’t know how that would go, but it seems to be well received,” she said. “So that has really upped our business, too.”

Lankford said, at its new site, health officials are sometimes seeing as many as 80 people per day.

“And that’s far more than what we were doing out at the church,” she said. “I think now that school is out, people are out walking, bringing their families, their kids, and we’re able to get them their vaccines.

“Those numbers will likely diminish over time, but for now, we are very busy.”

The clinic, too, has left Tuesday’s open, which is to say they are not administering the COVID-19 vaccine on site. Instead, they are taking shots on the road, going everywhere from the upcoming Good Samaritan Women’s Health Fair next week to the Knox County Jail and even Futaba Indiana of America, all in an effort to get as many people vaccinated as possible.

And more off-site clinics are in the works.

“We’re just keeping our hand in the pot and trying to reach all kinds of populations,” she said.

Health department officials, too, are keeping a list of homebound residents who want to get the vaccine, even working with Generations and local physicians’ offices to get more names. When they have extra doses, someone heads out to administer them.

“Dr. Stewart will go out and do some, nurses will, too,” Lankford said. “We’ve made trips to Bicknell. We go to Fox Ridge, the jail, anywhere we need to go, really.”

So far, nearly 40% of Knox County’s residents have been fully vaccinated against the virus, and even more have had their first shots.

The county, too, has gone six days with only one new case, Stewart said.

The positivity rate remains at just 1.5%.

So you know

The health department’s new COVID-19 hours are as follows:

Monday, noon to 4 p.m., Moderna

Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Pfizer

Thursday, noon to 4 p.m., Moderna

Friday, noon to 4 p.m. Pfizer

The clinic will also be open 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday and again on June 19.

To have your name placed on a homebound list, contact the health department at 812-882-8080.

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