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‘Racing’ to vaccinate: FEMA steps into Las Vegas as cases rise

Updated July 28, 2021 - 1:44 pm

With a bullhorn to his mouth, Junior Romero called out to residents of Hullum Homes Apartments.

“We’ve got a couple of vaccines; you pick which one you want,” shouted Romero, an aide to Clark County Commissioner William McCurdy II.

Standing in her doorway at the east Las Vegas public housing complex, carrying a six-week-old baby in her arms, India Hendon, 33, was uncertain.

“It’s scary because you don’t know what you’re going to get from it,” she said, adding that she would not take up the offer to get a shot and preferred to wait because she was leery of any potential side effects.

A handful of people were observed sporadically entering into the community center to receive a vaccine Tuesday, only a short walking distance away on the grounds of the 59-unit complex. Others received information to take home.

Martha Floyd, resident programming director for the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority, said she could not broadly characterize why at least some public housing residents would choose to not vaccinate.

“I mean, obviously it’s all the reasons why everybody else is not getting the vaccination,” Floyd said. “And again, our hope is that by bringing it on site, we’re making it more convenient.”

FEMA called amid surge

Vaccine hesitancy and a lack of access continue to be hurdles as coronavirus cases remain on the rise in the state. But there is a renewed effort underway to increase immunization rates in Southern Nevada.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been assisting state and local efforts in Clark County for nearly two weeks at the request of Gov. Steve Sisolak — including with pop-up vaccination sites like the one at the four-hour event Tuesday.

FEMA developed the strategy to target hardest-hit areas, looking at where vaccination rates are low and social vulnerability is high, officials said. It is also supervising staff, including volunteers from groups such as AmeriCorps and Peace Corps, while working alongside 30 community organizations.

The federal agency has specifically been setting up vaccination sites and canvassing neighborhoods to leave behind door hangers with information about where to find the closest such site.

On door hangers left at the complex on Tuesday, one message was clear: Vaccines are safe and rigorously tested.

Allison Pfaendler, federal incident commander with FEMA, said the agency will remain in Clark County “for as long as the state requires our assistance.”

It is not immediately clear how long that will be.

‘Racing’ to get public vaccinated

Hospitalization rates are at last summer’s peak levels in Nevada, and the state imposed a mandate Tuesday that means everyone in Clark County — vaccinated or not — must wear masks indoors in public places.

Nevada (51 percent) trails the national average (57 percent) for fully vaccinated among eligible population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We’re racing to get the public vaccinated and also reach them where they are,” McCurdy said during the event at Hullum Homes Apartments. “There is no other alternative (to getting vaccinated). There is no other way around it.”

Anthony Dejesus, 52, had been walking to the mailbox when he stumbled upon the vaccination event at the community center and got inoculated.

“I just happened to look over and this is going on,” he said, adding that he had wanted to get a shot but transportation issues had kept him from doing so.

“My main concern is my family,” he said.

‘Why not’ get a shot?

For Yolanda and Aaron Ballinger, there is a divide between the couple on whether a vaccine is the right decision.

“My mindset is more, like, why not at this point?” Aaron Ballinger, 28, said. “The second wave of whatever this virus is coming out. I mean, if this is what can prevent or help prevent it or help prevent the side effects of me being sick.”

Yolanda Ballinger, 26, did not believe a vaccination was necessary if it was not 100 percent effective. She had already contracted COVID-19, quarantined for two weeks, and her body fought it off, she said.

But she said that she also understood why older people, such as her parents, chose to receive the vaccine to protect themselves because they were more susceptible to serious illness.

“Still, ‘til this day, if masks are going to go ahead and be mandatory and stuff like that, of course I’m going to go ahead and (wear one),” she said.

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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