It all starts with a knock for this Delaware doctor taking COVID-19 vaccinations to doorsteps

Brittany Horn
Delaware News Journal

Quintina Bolling did a happy dance. 

"I got my vaccination," she cheered, waving her white card in the air and sharing the news with her neighbors from the open doorway of a motel room at the Best Night Inn. 

Bolling was there to visit her friend, Lavinia Smallwood, never thinking she'd be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine while just sitting and chatting with her friend.

But when Dr. Sandra Gibney and her team of vaccinators, including Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, came knocking on the door, they figured why not. This way, there was no need to schedule an appointment online or drive to a mass vaccination clinic. They got protected against the coronavirus right then and there.

"It's a blessing," said the 58-year-old Bolling, a smile stretching across her face.

She and Smallwood were two of dozens who got vaccinated as the outreach team made their way through the motel off Route 9, along with other nearby motels. It is a strategy Gibney and Hall-Long have also used to combat the addiction epidemic in Delaware. They just go to where the people are.

This time, along with the overdose-reversing medication naloxone and bags of food, the women were stocked with COVID-19 vaccines, as well.

The outreach effort followed a vaccine clinic on North DuPont Highway at the Red Roof Inn, where the state places people with emergency vouchers until they can find more stable housing. Anyone staying at the hotel – including the 44 people living there on vouchers – was welcome to get the vaccine free of charge.

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It's yet another effort to take vaccines to the people who need them most, especially those who may struggle to access information, reach a mass vaccination clinic or be hesitant about getting the vaccine in the first place.

Dr. Sandy Gibney, Md. discusses the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine with a resident of the Red Roof Inn in Minquadale.

And there was plenty of hesitancy Monday afternoon from people of all backgrounds.

Some had heard about issues with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was recently re-upped for use nationwide after reports of women experiencing blood clots post-vaccination. Monday marked the first vaccination event in which this specific vaccine was made available again, Hall-Long said, though the Moderna vaccine was also offered.

BACKGROUND:Delaware to stop administering J&J vaccine in response to blood clots in 6 recipients

Others said they didn't believe the vaccine was out long enough to really know what side effects they may experience. Some worried they would feel sick after, while a few just shook their head and said, "I'm good."

One man who declined to provide his name said if he were 100% about the vaccine and its efficacy, he would get it in a heartbeat. But he wasn't yet.

His roommate and friend, on the other hand, was thrilled to see Gibney and her team at the hotel room door at the Red Roof Inn. Wearing an American flag mask, Russell Lowmax waved the team in, saying he had been waiting for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be accessible to him.

Dr. Sandy Gibney, Md. (left) discusses the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine with Russell Lomax, a resident of the Red Roof Inn in Minquadale.

His friend has been taking care of him and the two have called the hotel home for the last month. They're hoping to get into their own house soon, they said.

Down the hall, Deborah Williams was relieved that the vaccine she had stressed over accessing came straight to her door. Without a car and unable to drive herself, the 62-year-old thanked the medical team for protecting her against COVID-19.

"It would have been hard to get to a vaccine," said Williams, who has been living at the Red Roof Inn for six months, her belongings packed into the hotel room with her.

The vaccine let her breathe a sigh of relief. 

"We're here to take care of them," Gibney said, and that comes without judgement.

Dr. Sandy Gibney, Md. (left) administers a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 to Alex Tillman in the doorway of his residence at the Red Roof Inn in Minquadale.

Take the three young men at the Budget Inn, one of whom wanted nothing to do with the vaccine. But his two friends, both in their early 20s, changed their mind after speaking with Gibney.

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One said his parents have been wanting him to get the vaccine. They would be happy to hear he finally got it, he said. 

And for every yes, there were many more no's Monday. It's part of outreach, and helping people slowly overcome a distrust of medicine in a stressful year. But after each door slam, Gibney would shake her head, then move onto the next one.

"I won't be thwarted," she said, her superhero sneakers already headed to the next door.

In her eyes, it's how you save a life.

Brittany Horn is an investigative reporter and editor who writes about issues like gun violence, addiction and harassment. Contact her at (302) 324-2771, bhorn@delawareonline.com or on Twitter at @brittanyhorn.