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Eastern Shore MRC Unit Crosses the Chesapeake Bay

March 9, 2010

Eastern Shore MRC nurse giving an H1N1 shot in boat off the island of TangierExtraordinary Circumstances

No river is wide enough to keep the Eastern Shore Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) unit from getting to you. Okay, maybe the Chesapeake Bay is not a river—but it is certainly a vast body of water with isolated islands such as Tangier. 

The tiny island makes up just 0.2 square miles and is a 50-minute boat ride away from the Eastern Shore mainland. This distance can be quite critical, especially during the time of an H1N1 pandemic.

To help prevent the spread of H1N1 on Tangier, the Eastern Shore MRC unit collaborated with the Eastern Shore Health District to deliver and provide H1N1 vaccinations to residents on the island of Tangier via boat. The Eastern Shore MRC unit was originally contacted by a Tangier school principal to vaccinate students—the Eastern Shore Health District was already in the process of vaccinating students from Accomack County, so students of Tangier were next on the list.

On the unique island of Tangier, approximately 600 residents live peacefully (there is no crime rate, seriously) and residents are very isolated from the mainland. Access to care on the island is limited—there is one medical clinic and one medical group that visits the island on Thursdays, weather permitting. For these reasons, it is imperative that residents receive preventive care, such as the H1N1 vaccine.

Not an Easy Journey

To reach the island, five members of the MRC unit collaborated with the Accomack County Health Department to deliver the H1N1 vaccines. First, the MRC unit met with staff of the Eastern Shore Health District, then drove 90 minutes to meet the boat, and finally—took a 50-minute boat ride to Tangier. The journey to the island was not easy—the unit ran into quite a few logistical challenges because of the weather.

Once the MRC unit and health district workers finally reached the island, the H1N1 clinic was set up at the school gym that also serves as a community center. The clinic was well-planned by the Eastern Shore Health District and the staff at the Tangier School. By the end of the clinic, 53 students and residents had been vaccinated.

Eastern Shore MRC unit coordinator, Ellen Archer, believes the volunteers could have vaccinated even more people had it not been for the weather. Reflecting on lessons learned, Archer says that in the future, the unit and health district will try not to plan a clinic on the island during the month of January. It took many tries for the volunteers to literally reach the island; therefore, many people ventured elsewhere for the vaccine or simply lost interest.

Archer says her unit has an ongoing relationship with the medical personnel and residents of Tangier. The unit is now in the process of delivering a batch of H1N1 vaccine to the island of Tangier. The Accomack County School Nurse, who is also an MRC volunteer, will transport the vaccine to help administer second doses of vaccine, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to children under the age of nine years old.

The Eastern Shore MRC unit will continue to help the residents of Tangier with public health efforts and try to recruit MRC volunteers on the island. The volunteers are satisfied they could fulfill a community service to a community in need, especially since Tangier residents were eager to receive the vaccine after a seasonal flu outbreak on the island in 2009.


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