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For Las Vegas’ vulnerable, vaccine arrives at the front door

Howard Pearlman was waiting the required 15 minutes after receiving his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday to make sure he didn’t have a negative reaction when he started to plan for the future.

Pearlman, 68, said he probably would visit his older brother who lives in Summerlin as soon as they both received their two shots, the timing of which had been a personal uncertainty for Pearlman, who has no transportation and is wary of long lines.

“You know, you have trouble sleeping, you think about it, you get nightmares,” he said.

But Pearlman considered the implications of immunization not from a crowded convention center or other public vaccination site. Instead he rested comfortably on a chair right outside his apartment door at the Stella Fleming Towers senior community in Las Vegas.

“I figured they’re coming here, let me take advantage of it,” he said.

Pearlman was one of 122 residents to receive a first dose Monday at the senior residential facility and at a nearby public housing complex, with a handful of neighbors on each floor patiently waiting their turn as Las Vegas Fire Department and private ambulance personnel rolled a cart carrying the vaccine through indoor hallways.

The strike team led by the city of Las Vegas represented the city’s most direct effort to date to immunize vulnerable populations by deploying a novel method: bringing it to their front door.

‘Making it seamless’

The nonprofit Nevada Hand counts Stella Fleming Towers as one of its 35 properties and partnered with Councilman Brian Knudsen on the recent pop-up sites. Two of its other properties in Clark County had used community areas to administer doses and shuttled residents to a recreation center for vaccination, but never had the nonprofit been involved in a door-to-door effort.

“We’re making it seamless. We’re coming to their homes and making it so they don’t have to go anywhere,” said Waldon Swenson, the vice president of Corporate Affairs for Nevada Hand. “I would say that we’re finding this method to be extremely effective.”

So much so that Waldon said 80 percent of Stella Fleming’s residents will be fully vaccinated when the team returns for second doses at the end of March. About 50 residents had been scheduled to receive an initial dose Monday, he noted, while roughly 40 had procured a vaccine through traditional means.

“This is easy,” Sharyn Wachsberger repeated twice, acknowledging that she had been “dead set” against receiving the vaccine until her son read her articles by medical experts.

If not for the pop-up site at Stella Fleming, Wachsberger, 75, who has underlying health conditions, would have gone to Walgreens to be vaccinated, she said, “but then I would have been exposed to other people, and I really don’t like doing that.”

Challenges exist

For many, although appointments have become easier to get in Southern Nevada, there can be barriers in traveling, standing in long lines, being in crowds and, in some instances, language differences.

“It was a blessing, really, that we didn’t have to go out, stand in lines to try and get it,” said Sarah Floyd, 66, a resident at James Down Towers, where vaccines were administered on Monday. “They brought it to us, and I am grateful.”

But even as recent home-delivered immunization efforts were successful, such plans are also costly and reliant on vaccine availability. Coordination is important too, with housing management responsible for notifying residents.

Knudsen said he found the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority-run James Down Towers to be less efficient. Some residents were not waiting outside their apartments, leaving administrators to knock on doors. Others said they were not notified of the rollout and expressed interest in receiving a shot when they saw what was happening.

“It ended up working out the best that it could,” Knudsen said Friday, acknowledging that while door-to-door may not be the most efficient method for delivering the vaccine, “our current models of waiting for them to come to us doesn’t work as well as it should.”

For Knudsen, it’s worth evaluating to figure out how to do it better.

There are presently plans for a strike team to administer shots in the common areas at a housing authority complex in the next week, and Swenson said he would like to bring door-to-door operations to as many Nevada Hand properties as they can.

‘I value my life’

For at least some residents, the rollout Monday represented their most prolonged socially distant interactions with neighbors in a while.

Evelyn Ramirez, 66, sat on a chair in a James Down hallway. She said she has a car and would probably have sought to get vaccinated at Walmart, where she unsuccessfully tried a few weeks ago before the age eligibility lowered to include 65 to 69 year olds.

Ramirez, a retired medical technician, said she was not worried about the coronavirus because she practices social distancing and wears a mask, though she noted that the majority at the complex do not. So when she sees neighbors chatting in a group downstairs, she just heads to her room.

“I value my life,” she said as she waited for her 15 minutes to pass. “I’m alone here so I have to protect myself.”

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

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