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Vax and Snax: The light-hearted county effort to get shots in arms

Tanya Armour hugs her 15-year-old son, Elijah, after he got the COVID-19 vaccine.
Kelly Kenoyer
Tanya Armour hugs her 15-year-old son, Elijah, after he got the COVID-19 vaccine at Vax and Snax.

The COVID-19 vaccine started out in high demand with low supply, but that trend has reversed in recent months as states have more vaccines available than arms to stick them in. But New Hanover County is trying new strategies to get stragglers to get the shot.

Music blasts the parking lot as folks line up for food trucks or to get some shaved ice. But this isn’t a festival: it’s a vaccine clinic.

New Hanover County hosted the Vax and Snax clinic on Saturday, June 12 to entice young people into getting the vaccine. They had a good number of takers: in the first half hour of the event, healthcare workers administered a shot every two minutes. And by the end, the county administered 68 vaccinations.

Elijah Armour is a 15-year-old football player at Hoggard High School. He got his second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at Vax and Snax, and said other young people should get it, too. "It's a global pandemic, and we're trying to move on," he said. "Everyone else in my family got it so, you know, it was my turn to get it."

Afterward his 15-minute waiting period, Armour and his mom got some lunch at the Soulful Twist food cart.

“When you get the shot, you just move on in the world and you're vaccinated," he said. "Once everyone gets vaccinated, everything can go back to normal quicker.”

His mother, Tanya Armour, said the whole family is vaccinated now. She had no qualms about having her son get the shot.

“Everyone in our family had Pfizer. So I feel a lot more confident that way," she said. "It'll be great that we get a chance to see my mom. She's 77, she's got pre existing conditions. So this allows us to see her in a way that won't compromise her health. It just makes me feel good. We haven't seen her in a really long time, since September 2019.”

Youth ages 12-17 are allowed to get the Pfizer vaccine under an emergency use authorization, but the Johnson and Johnson single-dose shot was available as well.

That's what 18-year-old Hanna Johnson decided to get. Healthcare workers gave her a pep talk to help her relax while she took the vaccine.

And DJ Bigg B from Coast 97.3 played upbeat jams to keep the mood light. Several county employees couldn't help but dance.

Diana Vetter Craft works for the county health department, and said this kind of event is intended to draw young people. “We want to make sure that people have access to the COVID-19 vaccines, and we want to also make it kind of fun for our youth and families by having music and some of the food trucks that are local here.”

County Health Director David Howard said half the eligible residents in the county have been vaccinated now, and 75% of seniors. "What we're trying to highlight right now, is that the 20 to 40 age group or thereabouts is what we need to come and get vaccinated, and to basically push us over the line to put the pandemic behind us.”

He’s hoping young people will come get the shot to help develop herd immunity.

“[herd immunity] means there's so few chances for the virus to transmit, because of so many vaccinations that it ends up basically putting the fire out," he explained. It curtails the ability of the virus to mutate and create new variants.”

He added that getting the shot is an altruistic act: You can protect other members of the community. But it can also prevent unforeseen side effects.

“We've seen in the past viruses that may not make you sick right away, may have long term effects," Howard said. "So your respiratory system, your cardiac system, other systems in your body, may be harmed to a degree that you don't feel, and later in life something may show up, we just don't know yet.”

COVID-19 vaccines are available for free Monday through Friday at the county health clinics, and at Independence Mall on Tuesdays and Thursdays. No appointments are required, but there are no guarantees of a live DJ at the other clinics.

Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant on the East Coast. She attended University of Oregon’s School of Journalism as an undergraduate, and later received a Master’s in Journalism from University of Missouri- Columbia. Contact her on Twitter @Kelly_Kenoyer or by email: KKenoyer@whqr.org.