A Shot in the Arm
The National Guard assists Brunswick County with COVID vaccinations.
North Carolina National Guard personnel have joined forces with healthcare professionals in Brunswick County and throughout the state to fight an invisible enemy, and indications are the battle is being won.
Ten National Guards representing the 505th and 878th Engineer Battalions and the 30th Armored Brigade have been traveling around the county since late January with medical professionals from Brunswick County Health Services and county EMS teams to administer COVID vaccines to thousands of residents. Five of the 10 guardsmen have been stationed in the county since their January 29 deployment.
“Our mission is to get as many people vaccinated as we can,” said Sgt. Sheada Corpening, head of the National Guard team serving in Brunswick County, at a September pop-up clinic held at the former Surf Cinemas in Shallotte, at which 105 shots were administered.
“We’re in charge of logistics at these sites, setting up cones, directing traffic and assisting with registration. Whatever we can do to assist.”
As of mid-September, 253 guardsmen were deployed in 14 NC counties assisting at vaccination sites, according to Maj. Matthew Boyle, director of media relations for the North Carolina National Guard. Statistics provided by the organization show that prior to June 30, 2021, guardsmen assisted with administering approximately 945,000 vaccinations statewide and supported testing of more than 78,000 citizens. During that same period, they delivered about 25.6 million pounds of cargo related to the COVID-19 response, covering approximately 252,000 miles.
In Brunswick County, the number of vaccinations administered continues to rise.
Average vaccinations from the main county clinic in Bolivia and the pop-up clinics combined have steadily increased from an average of 90 per week in June to 500 per week by mid-September, according to Meagan Kascsak, the county’s communications director. Those numbers do not include vaccinations that took place in other parts of the county, like health clinics, doctors’ offices and pharmacies.
Brunswick County Health Services, in coordination with Novant Health Brunswick Regional Medical Center and Dosher Memorial Hospital, originally began offering vaccines to the public in early 2021 through an appointment-only drive-through clinic. Pop-up clinics in parks and parking lots at schools or other public areas started in February to expand access to vaccines. Area churches, the Brunswick County NAACP and other community organizations and businesses helped spread the word about those early clinics.
In addition to Shallotte, pop-up clinics appeared in Supply, Southport, Oak Island, Sunset Beach, Leland, Winnabow, Ash and several other areas.
Some were tied to pre-existing events like the Southport concert series, Oak Island Farmers Market and Independence Day celebrations.
“It’s been a lengthy process,” said Sgt. Jeffery Bennett, a guardsman originally deployed to Brunswick County in January; he recently returned after a three-month leave. “It’s been great to see a community take a step forward to stop the spread of COVID.”
The men and women of the National Guard make many sacrifices to serve their communities. They leave behind family, friends and jobs and don’t always know how long they’ll be away.
Sgt. Corpening’s team has lived out of knapsacks at the Best Western in Shallotte. They came from Winston-Salem, Raleigh, Charlotte, Asheville, Hickory and Gastonia to serve the people of Brunswick County. Sgt. Corpening is on leave from his job at North Carolina Juvenile Justice, a division of the state Department of Public Safety, where he is primarily responsible for transporting youth to court and medical appointments.
“We get leave, so we go home when we can,” he said. “It can be hard, but this is what we signed up for – to serve our communities. As it says on the National Guard website: ‘Sometimes the front lines are in our own backyard.’”