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The recent opening of the mass vaccination center in North Cornwall Township is certainly great news for Lebanon County residents.

Read More: [Photo Story] Inside Lebanon’s new mass vaccination clinic

To be eligible for one of the coveted vaccination time slots, individuals can register at the county’s Department of Emergency Services website at www.lcdes.org. There, residents can sign up for email notifications that will notify them when time slots are available to make a vaccination appointment.

Jamie Wolgemuth, Chief Clerk/Count Administrator told LebTown that registering on the county’s website is the best way to get notified about the availability of vaccine appointments at the mass vaccination site.

There are other locations available to county residents to sign-up for a vaccination appointment – particularly for those who may have limited Internet access or who do not speak English, according to Ryan Coyle, Manager, Media Relations, WellSpan Health.

As of earlier this month, WellSpan had vaccine appointments available at their three county-based facilities, including at its largest site, Good Samaritan Hospital. A fourth WellSpan vaccination outpost comes online this week at the mass vaccination site, with WellSpan’s public appointment booking system showing dozens of slots available as of press time for Friday and Saturday.

Coyle said WellSpan Health also has a Spanish-speaking COVID-19 website and its COVID-19 telephone service at 1-855-851-3641 has a translation option for non-English speaking individuals to learn about vaccination appointment availability. The phone line operates seven days a week between the hours of 8 a.m. through 5 p.m., Coyle added.

“Our COVID-19 hotline is not specific to Lebanon County, but it does serve our three locations in the city, including Good Samaritan Hospital, WellSpan Family Medicine Practice on Norman Drive and WellSpan Family Medicine on North 4th Street,” Coyle said. The fourth vaccination site at the county-run clinic was added to the list after LebTown’s conversation with Coyle.

Coyle noted that WellSpan Health has made a concerted effort since the start of the pandemic to reach the Latino community in Lebanon County by partnering with six different organizations that work specifically with that demographic.

“Part of our effort in handling patients was also outreach to those more vulnerable populations and our outreach has included community partnerships, where we’ve worked with these groups to distribute information at bodegas and other locations,” Coyle said. “Now, of course, we are distributing resources and information about how these same groups can obtain vaccinations.”

Nicole Maurer Gray, Executive Director, Community Health Council of Lebanon County, said her organization is working daily to ensure there is a safety net to ensure that everyone who wants to obtain the vaccine can do so.

“There is a group at WellSpan Health working very hard to service the at-risk and vulnerable populations,” Maurer Gray said. “That includes those individuals with limited English proficiency, it includes people who are home-bound or disabled, other groups not being served at an equal proportion to others and those lacking technical expertise to schedule an appointment , which is a great concern to us.”

Maurer Gray said the goal is to locate gaps in vaccination distribution and then fill them.

“We are looking at groups that, for whatever reason, may have not only physical disabilities or behavioral health symptoms that would preclude them from going to a mass vaccination site,” said Maurer Gray. “There is a group dedicated to address this in all the communities that WellSpan Health serves.”

Maurer Gray added, however, that reaching these groups is contingent upon vaccine availability but until that happens, they are working long hours to identify at-risk groups and creating strategic plans on how to reach them.

“Some strategies include reaching home-bound individuals, creating what we’re calling strike team opportunities to take the vaccine into places within the community where we know people are under-served and also potentially, in the future, offering more vaccination locations throughout the county.”

One issue Maurer Gray and others have identified is the location of vaccine distribution: There are no sites located east of Lebanon city nor to the northern side of the county. (The Pennsylvania Department of Health’s COVID-19 website lists vaccination locations by county.)

That (vaccine distribution locality) is definitely an area of concern to us,” Maurer Gray said. “It’s like a food desert, where we know there are areas of a city or even the county where people don’t have easy access to food within proximity to where they live. These medical access deserts also exist, so we’d like to solve that issue by offering mobile units as more vaccines become available.”

Maurer Gray noted there is good news for people with transportation issues: Lebanon Transit is offering free rides to vaccination clinic sites.

Read More: Lebanon Transit giving free bus rides to COVID vaccination appointments

“While it is a long distance to drive from say Fredericksburg, which is pretty far from most of the current sites, Lebanon Transit is offering free rides, from pretty much anywhere in the county, to the vaccination clinics,” said Maurer Gray.

Maurer Gray said that a reason the vaccination sites are concentrated within Lebanon County is due to vaccine mobility.

“Many people don’t understand that moving vaccines is an issue – you just can’t pick them up and move them around in a cooler anywhere you please,” Mauer Gray said. “There is also the issue of vaccine accountability. To be a vaccine provider is a major responsibility. You have to sign contracts, only certain people can do vaccinations and the logistics of moving the vaccine around is problematic – not to mention that Moderna and Pfizer have storage barriers.”

While any issue is concerning during a global pandemic, Maurer Gray wanted to assure county residents that processes are being put into place to address concerns.

“The takeaway I want to leave with people is that no one is being forgotten in this process,” Maurer Gray said. “I want people to know that all of these things are being worked on and there are people looking at vulnerable groups to ensure that anyone who wants to get a vaccination into their arm will be able to get a vaccination.”

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James Mentzer

James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; and Lancaster...