When Thida resident Nancy Grisham showed up at the Union Hill Thida Fire Department on Thursday night, she said her mind was made up about whether or not she would pursue getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

With work and other things going on at home, she just needed to find the time and place to do it.

“I came to get an update on the new virus and to see if I was able to take [the vaccine] or not,” Grisham said, “I’m susceptible to pneumonia yearly, and I’m diabetic.”

Thanks to the efforts of leaders from the Independence County business community and White River Health System, Grisham got that very convenient chance.

The first rural community outreach events were held all over Independence County on Thursday night at fire stations in Pleasant Plains and Floral along with Union Hill Thida.

The next events are scheduled for Tuesday night at Desha Volunteer Fire Department, Oil Trough Fire Department, and Southside Fire Department. Again, physicians and healthcare professionals will be on site to answer questions about the COVID-19 vaccines, and vaccines will be available.

Attendance at Thursday’s event was more than half capacity of the Union Hill Thida building. In fact, 11 individuals showed up at the fire station to hear Dr. J.D. Allen along with pharmacist Cathy Castleman, and Harding pharmacy student Lane Callahan. Allen and Castleman spoke of their knowledge of the new Delta variant and how the vaccine helped combat the virus. Both also answered several questions and participated in discussions about the vaccine and its properties as well as any side effects and protocols from the shots.

Of those 11 individuals, six received their first dose of their choice of vaccine – Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson.

Two of those in attendance were already vaccinated and two more intended to get their first dose, but because of other circumstances had to wait.

Only one person in attendance outright refused.

Officials in attendance were pleased by the turnout as well as the results.

Grisham was also pleased with what she heard and thought the gathering was good for her community, saying, “I think it is the perfect idea for stepping out into the community and getting this done.”

In Floral, about a dozen residents gathered at the fire station to ask questions about the vaccine. Most of the questions were concerns about the emergency use authorization status of the current vaccines, the companies that produce the vaccine, and concerns about yet-to-be-known longterm effects.

“Masking is effective and has no side effects,” said Jody Smotherman, chief strategy officer with White River Medical Center.

Smotherman and other health care workers on hand shared their personal experiences getting the vaccine, which was available to them months before it was made available to the public. The virus has been around for more than a year and there’s already four varieties of it. If enough people don’t get immunized, more varieties may develop. Additionally, wide enough spread could cause shortages on resources hospitals need to take care of people, such as oxygen and healthcare workers themselves.

At least two people received vaccinations during the talk.

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