Russell vaccine

Sylva Herald News Editor Dave Russell focuses on relaxing his arm while Brian McFalls vaccinates him at the Department on Aging last Thursday.

By Dave Russell


Lightning flashed, thunder roared and rain fell sideways in sheets last Thursday as I waited in my tired old car for my COVID-19 vaccination at the Department on Aging.

The line wouldn’t move, and I felt bad for my impatience. But I’m human, and I hadn’t been so excited about something since I was 8 years old and just knew Santa would bring me a Huffy bicycle.

While I sat in warmth, the folks staffing the clinic worked in the rain. First stop, sheriff’s deputies. They had a tent, but most of the time they walked to cars checking folks in. The gentleman who helped me had a raincoat, but his pants were soaked, and it was 55 degrees and windy.

Next stop was Jackson County Department of Public Health Deputy Director Melissa McKnight, all 80 pounds of her soaking wet. Just walking from her tent to my window soaked the paperwork she gave me to fill out.

Then into the big white tent, where an army of busy people scurried about.

The white canopy was supported by a metal frame. Hence the delay – lightning.

Paperwork was exchanged and the syringe was in sight.

Just for a second, I imagined a lightning strike right as I received my injection turning me into some kind of Marvel comic book superhero, like “SuperCOVID Vax Man, able to protect his fellow man with just one touch.” Thankfully, that did not happen. 

A lefty, I asked for the injection into my right arm. No problem. I moved my arm closer to the window and Brian McFalls of Harris EMS injected the Moderna elixir I’d waited so longingly for. It didn’t hurt, just a little discomfort. I thanked him profusely and exited the tent to wait my 10 minutes to see how it would settle on me.

I felt giddy while I waited. Not that I want to rip off my mask and run wild. I’ll wear a mask until scientists tell me I won’t endanger others if I go out mask-free. I’m just looking forward to not worrying that a trip to the grocery store could make me very sick or even kill me or someone I come in contact with.

I showed the last wet person my paperwork and he asked how I felt and sent me on my way. Round 1 was done. Round 2 is April 27, then two weeks after that I am 90-95 percent (depending on who you ask) protected against COVID-19.

I experienced no side effects whatsoever, other than some soreness. It mostly hurt when I leaned on the wall, so I stopped leaning on walls.

Later I asked McKnight about the delay in the line.

“We are happy to administer vaccines in the cold, snow or rain,” she said. “You saw that in full force yesterday, but it isn’t safe for us to do so when it is lightning. If it begins to lightning, we pause the Clinic for 30 minutes. We do everything we can to prevent canceling a Clinic while ensuring the safety of our staff and volunteers.”

I asked her who those people in that rain and wind and thunder and lightning were so I could give them a big “THANK YOU!”

She said the community can thank the Jackson County Department of Public Health, National Guard, Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, Harris Regional Hospital, Harris EMS, Jackson County Emergency Management, Jackson County Department on Aging, Jackson County Public Works, Community Care of N.C. and volunteers from the community.

For what they do on a good day, I am grateful. For what they did Thursday in that weather, I think they are the superheroes. Fortunately, without lightning strikes.


WCU slots limited 

The Western Carolina University Regional Vaccination Clinic website says new appointments are limited for the week of March 29. Appointments can be scheduled on Mondays. See for details.

WCU is the place to go for 16-17-year-olds, as they often provide the Pfizer vaccine, which is approved for those 16 and older.

“In the case of patients under 18, we have a provision to do a dual witness phone call for consent, but prefer any minor patient bring the consenting adult in person to the appointment,” Clinic Director Cortnee Lingerfelt said. “The best thing to do to ensure there is Pfizer for any scheduled day is to call the call center at 227-8222 to schedule. We probably won’t have capacity for a new first shot of Pfizer until at least April 13.”

The health department has opened COVID-19 vaccines to all groups. To make an appointment, visit, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ Find a Vaccine Location website.


By the numbers

As of Wednesday morning, the NCDHHS Dashboard shows 6,616 (up from 4,886 last week) people in Jackson County have been fully vaccinated with 11,199 (up from 10,318) at least partially vaccinated.

Almost 26 percent of county residents have had at least one shot, according to the DHHS.

The county’s death toll has remained at 55 since Feb. 15.

The rate of COVID-19 infection in Jackson County continues its downward trajectory, increasing only 0.7 percent since last Tuesday.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, DHHS reported 3,482 total cases in Jackson, an increase of 25 from 3,457 a week earlier. The county has had 792 cases per 10,000 residents, up from 787 last week. According to the DHHS dashboard, Jackson County has a testing positivity rate of 6.6 percent. That’s higher than the state rate of 6.2 percent.

DHHS on Tuesday reported 912,203 statewide cases (up from 889,164 last week) and 12,087 deaths (up from 11,854 last week).

Nationwide, cases numbered 30,147,895 (up from 29,708,385 last week) and 547,296 deaths (up from 540,503) as of Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

The Jackson County Public Schools Dashboard ( reports there have been 122 student cases, reporting no new cases over the past two weeks. There are no active cases among students or staff.

Since reporting began July 1, WCU reports 737 total cases among students, employees and contractors, up from 729 last week. Since Jan. 1, there have been 219 student cases, up from 213 last week, and 40 employee cases and four contractor cases for a total of 263, up from 255 last week. The campus has 95 quarantine/isolation beds, with three in use currently. Off campus, 44 students are in quarantine/isolation.