Council Bluffs Noon Rotary Club Provides Essential Volunteer Support for Nationally Recognized COVID-19 Mass-Vaccine Clinics.
by Brian Mainwaring (Club Member)
In February 2021, the Pottawattamie County Public Health Department (PCPH) began offering a series of high-profile, large-scale clinics that were open to all area residents of southwest Iowa who sought to be vaccinated against COVID-19.  Mick McKinley, a longtime member of the local Council Bluffs (CB) Noon Rotary Club, received his initial dose very early on, at the second of these events.  
As with virtually everyone else who attended, McKinley was in and out in less than 20 minutes—the PCPH standard.  He was so impressed with this experience that while still on-site, he asked Pottawattamie County Planning and Development Director Matt Wyant—who was overseeing the entire clinic operation—if PCPH could use the CB Noon Rotary’s assistance in staging these community events. 
“I’d gotten a shot and asked Matt if they needed any help?” he said.  “Matt called me back maybe a day later and asked me if we could get wheelchairs and people to push them . . . so that’s what we did.”  In fact, the CB Noon Rotary mobilized so quickly here—first by securing loaned wheelchairs, and then by recruiting volunteers—that the club was able to begin providing support to attendees with ambulatory difficulties at the fourth clinic, which was held in February (soon after the two first spoke).
This offer of assistance was timely, indeed.  The reason: while PCPH was operating with a staff of only 12-15 in early 2021, the department estimated that in order to organize and execute these clinics on a such a large scale, about 110 people would be needed to work each session.  PCPH determined that its best option for making up the difference would be to enlist the voluntary assistance of as many area organizations and residents as possible in support of this expansive public-health effort.  
CB Noon Rotary participants then helped with every subsequent session through late March, when demand for wheelchair assistance finally tapered off.  Involvement levels were excellent, with the club typically signing up eight volunteers for each morning and afternoon shift—and during the clinics, this group was almost totally self-directed and -organized, requiring only minimal direction from PCPH. 
In fact, Wyant recalls that the CB Noon Rotary contingent became so proficient that it basically assumed oversight of the entire wheelchair program; this effort ultimately would comprise hundreds of volunteers, who managed and deployed some 25 wheelchairs per session.  Worth noting: the venue made this already complex effort more challenging, as the clinics were held at the Council Bluffs Mid-America Center (MAC)—a large multi-event facility that ended up hosting some 3,000 people per date. 
“Given the number of our attendees who needed ambulatory assistance, this particular volunteer group probably helped tens of thousands of area residents receive their COVID-19 vaccinations,” Wyant said.  “The wheelchair program was an element of the clinics that turned out to be essential to their success.”    
In the end, PCPH put on a total of 38 clinics running through May 2021, with more than 55,000 doses being dispensed to some 30,000 residents from throughout southwest Iowa.  McKinley subsequently explained that the CB Noon Rotary participants uniformly praised the events, saying that, “It was unbelievable.  All of our volunteers were talking about how well-organized and well-run they were.”
Indeed, this series of mass-vaccine clinics has since begun garnering national accolades: in 2022, PCPH received an “Innovative Practice” designation from the National Association of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO), and an “Achievement Award” from the National Association of Counties (NACo).  Additionally, NACCHO has distributed an online article about these events to its national membership—with this story making prominent mention of the CB Noon Rotary—and the same narrative also may be featured in an edition of the organization’s professional journal.
According to Wyant, to a great extent, this recognition has been attributable to the fact that so many local volunteers (ultimately, more than 400) helped to make the mass-vaccine clinics a reality—and he’s particularly grateful that the CB Noon Rotary became so integrally involved. 
“The club was a major factor in helping these events work week after week.  Looking back now, it’s clear that the clinics could not have run so well or served so many people without all the support we received from the CB Noon Rotary,” Wyant said.  The department subsequently acknowledged the club’s ongoing assistance with these events by presenting it with an official “Certificate of Appreciation.”
Moving forward, Wyant explained that, “If PCPH ever has to stage any additional clinics, the next time around we’ll ask the CB Noon Rotary to participate from the very beginning.  In fact, our partnership with the club proved so beneficial here that in the future, we’ll likely be requesting their assistance in some capacity with a number of our larger-scale, local public-health responses.”
And McKinley said that if such a need ever arises, the club would stand ready to assist once again.  In his words, “We’re here and ready to help.  If a service opportunity fits into any of the Rotary’s areas of focus, we’d be interested—and, of course, one of these is health.”
NOTE: To find out more about how the CB Noon Rotary Club mobilized its support for PCPH’s award-winning 2021 COVID-19 mass-vaccination clinics, please contact McKinley at phone number 402-499-0389/email   
And to learn how PCPH planned, organized, and staged these events, please contact Wyant at phone number 712-328-5853/email; or Maria Sieck, Pottawattamie County Public Health Administrator, at phone number 712-242-1131/email