WINCHESTER — Winchester Sheriff’s Office deputies will drive nurses to the homes of up to 20 homebound elderly people to vaccinate them against the coronavirus on March 8 and April 5.

Sheriff Les Taylor said Monday that the pilot program is being done in conjunction with the Frederick/Winchester Health Department, which is part of the Lord Fairfax Health District and Virginia Health Department. He said the rides were the idea of Deputy Nate Post who contacted the district a couple of weeks ago after Taylor approved it.

"He wanted to help people who couldn't get out to get the vaccine," Taylor said. "I thought it was a fantastic idea."

The initiative is part of local, state and national efforts to be creative to accelerate COVID-19 vaccinations to save lives. The American death toll has reached 500,000 including nearly 7,500 Virginians. From April 24 through Sunday, 282 people in the Lord Fairfax Health District, most of them elderly, have died. Besides Winchester, the district encompasses Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren counties.

Taylor hopes to provide additional rides if vaccine supplies meet demand, and he said caregivers who live with homebound people will also be eligible for vaccinations. He said the reason just 20 doses are being given is because the Moderna mRNA-1273 only has a shelf life of 12 hours when not refrigerated. The second shot must be administered within 28 days of the first one.

The Sheriff's Office has 14 deputies including Taylor. Their primary duties are courthouse security, transporting prisoners and serving civil papers.

It's unclear how many elderly homebound people live in the area, but the Shenandoah Area  Agency on Aging provides meals to 61 households in Winchester, according to Linda Holtzapple, agency executive director. In Clarke and Frederick counties, the numbers are 38 and 112, respectively. Altogether, 435 households in the district, most of them comprised of a single individual, are served by the agency's Meals on Wheels program. The agency has about 1,800 overall clients.

Holtzapple said the vaccination ride program is a good idea. She noted the national shortage of vaccines and hassles in registering people for shots have been frustrating for the agency's clients. Besides vaccinations, Holtzapple said elderly people, whether or not they're homebound, need moral support. Depression among clients has increased since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March.

"They're already isolated because of their age and now with COVID, they're even more isolated," Holtzapple said. "The community needs to keep an eye on their elderly neighbors. Send them a note or text or post something on Facebook to them just to keep them in your mind."

— Contact Evan Goodenow at egoodenow@winchesterstar.com

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