Sometimes a plan comes together

It was a plan to make Burt Reynolds proud.

The plot to Smokey and the Bandit, for those who don’t recall, is Burt and the boys were going to bootleg beer from Texarkana to the other side of the Mississippi River because that particular brand of beer wasn’t sold there, or something like that.

It has been a minute since Smokey and the Bandit was in the theaters, or even making a run through cable TV, but the big point is the movie started in Texarkana, involved bootlegging and being on the run from the cops.

This plan was a reverse Smokey and the Bandit where it ended in Texarkana, bootlegging across state lines, the only part that wasn’t clear was if the cops would get involved.

It started with a bit of news, Texas was opening up its Covid-19 vaccination program to anyone over the age of 16 who wanted the shot. I very much want the shot.

So after some clicking around and it was discovered Christus St. Michael, the regional hospital on the Texas side of the state line in Texarkana, was having a mass vaccination clinic on Saturday, March 13. The import of that date and the fact that it was the anniversary of the “Last Good Day” wasn’t lost on me.

More clicking ensued. The mass vaccination clinic didn’t have a residency requirement and while the 16 and up group doesn’t start until Monday, March 15, Saturday was open to those 50, or older and  if you had a pre-existing health condition or worked in certain industries.

The hospital had an online questionnaire to determine eligibility and, sure enough, it said I qualified. Then came picking an appointment. I selected 9:50 on Saturday morning, and mentally prepared myself for an early departure. The drive would be at least a couple of hours, maybe longer depending on construction and traffic.

That was Thursday.

Readers of this site, and newsletter, are aware, hopefully, that Shorter College in North Little Rock was hosting a mass vaccination clinic on Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

So Plan A, drive to Texarkana, Smokey and the Bandit style but the bit of news about Shorter College’s clinic made for a Plan B.

Maybe, just maybe, I could, under the guise of news coverage, go to Shorter College, towards the end of the clinic’s time, and see that maybe, just maybe, I could get the shot and avoid a trip to Texas.

It wasn’t the best of plans, but in the chaotic mess of a rollout and vaccination program administered by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, the Department of Health and Rob Ator, a retired Air Force colonel, it was at least a plan.

I didn’t expect it to work, but I left for Shorter College in North Little Rock a little after 1 p.m.

After parking, I strolled into the lobby of the gym, reporter’s notebook in hand, and walked up to an information table that was checking people in.

Before I identified myself as a reporter, or mentioned what I was doing there, they asked my name and I said I didn’t have an appointment.

Two very kind ladies looked at me, and said that’s fine. Do you want a shot?

Do I want a shot? Yes, I want a shot. Of course, I want a shot. I’m driving to Texas in the morning to get the shot.

“Really? Yeah,” was said in response.

A form was handed to me with instructions to fill it out and that I was “blessed” to have been there then. I was also told that while I didn’t have an appointment, the clinic that was being done by UAMS, was letting people in a few minutes before the event closed so that none of the vaccine would be wasted.

I was grateful and smiled widely behind my mask. Feeling a confession was in order, I admitted to the volunteers my Texas plan but being able to get the shot on Friday was a huge relief.

Seven tables were set up on the gym floor, not all were all giving the vaccine, as some were being used for administrative purposes but as I walked up, I was pointed to an open table that I went to with no wait.

They asked for my information, I told them I had no appointment and was a walk-up. They said that was fine and asked what shoulder I wanted the shot in.

I picked my left, as I’ve read the non-dominant arm was best. The nurse rolled up my sleeve, gave me a swipe with an alcohol pad and I didn’t even feel the needle go in. Then I got a band-aid and she rolled my sleeve back down. I also then confessed to my Texas plan and two nurses working my vaccination table laughed and directed me to another table to get my information, so the vaccination could be recorded.

At every stop, I confessed, but it was fine. One even took my picture and I was given the coveted card that recorded my first injection and with the time and place of my second injection. It will also be at Shorter College and, for me, it will be April 2. That just happens to be Good Friday is a fact not lost either.

Deborah Hutts, a registered nurse and clinical services manager for UAMS, was running the show at the vaccination clinic and she said that approximately 325 people had made appointments.

  • For more on Hutts, click here and her team’s efforts click here.

They didn’t track demographics but, “that isn’t something I have formally looked at, but I can tell you it was predominantly minority,” Hutts said. “Which is wonderful, because they tend to have lower vaccine rates.”

Clinics like the one at Shorter College on Friday, or the daily clinics in Little Rock, or the rural outreach events that have been held around the state are all done with one goal, to get as many people vaccinated as possible. Late arrivals, walk-ins like me, are sort of baked into the process UAMS has established.

“So we've made a big commitment not to waste any doses,” Hutts said. “If we're out like this, we'll give it to any arm that's willing to take it. And our vaccine clinic, we do our due diligence to try to make sure that we're calling people that meet the current guidelines, and that we'll do a good faith effort, and then give it to anyone who can.”

This means getting vaccinated is frustrating as one waits to be in the proper group but those who are giving the shots are also experiencing frustrations as they deal with vaccine hesitancy or constantly shifting as plans get made and changed.

“So we have had to pivot really quickly, based on the governor's announcements,” Hutts said and added, “then it's a mad dash to facilitate access to those new groups.”

But those changes get handled.

“When we started our community vaccine program, it was the most amazing display of teamwork that I have ever seen in my entire career,” Hutt said. “We did not have a vaccine clinic. Governor Hutchinson made the announcement and within a week we had a clinic open.”

Hutts expects more changes on the way.

“It's my firm belief that we will see group 1C open very soon,” she said. “I believe that.”

Here’s to hope.

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