By Barry Dalton
“I thought, man, I’m getting up there,” said Chris Werdehausen, when she heard about the mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Mexico airport on Friday, Jan. 29. She and her husband drove from Holts Summit to get their shots. “We’ve been prisoner for a year now. We’ve gotta get out of our house.”
Werdehausen was one of nearly 1,600 people who waited in line in their cars for several hours to get their doses of the Pfizer vaccine. And they’ll have to do it again on Feb. 19 when it’s time for their second dose. They were issued a card to show they are eligible for the next round, which will also take place at the airport
The mass clinic was staffed by nurses and employees of the Audrain County Health Department (ACHD) and 30 members of the Missouri National Guard and airmen from Whiteman Airforce base. Administrative, logistical and supply support was also provided by the County Commission, the City of Mexico, the Audrain County Emergency Management Agent, Missouri Public Safety, Little Dixie Fire Department and even the local McDonalds.
Mexico Councilman Chris Williams, who is the manager of the Mexico McDonalds, brought 30 free meals to the military on site.
“They were going to have MREs,” Williams explained. “I said I got it. This is a pretty critical thing. The COVID numbers in Mexico were so bad, so if we can get this done, maybe we can get a little control of it in our community at least.”
ACHD CEO Craig Brace said the health department was notified that it had been chosen by the State of Missouri as a site for the event on Jan. 22. He worked with County Commissioners Steve Hobbs and Alan Winders to find a suitable location and they quickly came to an agreement with the city to use the Mexico Memorial Airport.
The airport had to be completely shut down all day Thursday, Jan. 28, for setup, again Friday, Jan. 29, for the clinic, and Saturday morning, Jan. 30, for clean up.
“It was probably an inconvenience for a few people,” said Jay Jacobi, manager of the airport. “We wouldn’t do something like this during normal times, but the declaration of a national emergency, and you get the opportunity to get 2,500 free vaccinations, you do it. Obviously you couldn’t do this in town; it’d be a disaster.”
Notices were put out to flyers, and Jacobi worked with state and federal authorities.
“I talked with MoDOT Aviation and the FFA just to make sure they were okay with it, because it’s not something they’d normally want you to do. They said they could understand why we wanted to do it.”
It’s also the perfect time to do it, Jacobi added, because in the spring and summer there is a lot more local air traffic than in the winter, especially when the crop dusting season begins.
“This time of year it’s slow because of the weather, which worked out for everybody’s favor, and the same for the follow up shot in three weeks.”
Car traffic, however, began showing up on the eve of the clinic.
“Quite a few showed up Thursday night, probably 30 or 40 cars, the interest was definitely high,” said Master Sergeant Michael Crane with the 139th Airlift Wing out of St. Joseph. “They were mostly in parking lots, but the police told them they couldn’t be there.”
There were some traffic issues on Hwy. 54 for the first 30 minutes of the clinic on Friday morning, but by 11 a.m., no cars were lined up on Hwy. 54 as Mexico Public Safety helped keep traffic flowing.
Rep. Kent Haden was one of the locals who received an injection during the event.
“It took me about two hours in line,” he said. “The shot didn’t hurt, and it was pretty quick considering how many people they had to get through. It’s amazing they could set this up in a few days and have any resemblance of order, and yet it’s pretty orderly. I’m impressed, just real impressed.”
ACHD says this mass vaccination clinic was provided by the Missouri National Guard and is separate from the ongoing vaccination efforts by the ACHD.