Dewey and Juanita Shelton got their first COVID-19 vaccinations last week, thanks to the kindness of strangers.
The Sheltons, who live in Ridgeway, both contracted COVID-19 in November and survived. Faced with worry and concern over becoming re-infected, they tried for months to get an appointment for their shots but had no luck — until their story appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin.
“Dewey will be 82 in March, and I’m 71 with a low immune system and a diabetic,” Juanita Shelton said almost two weeks ago. “We have received no appointment [for vaccination] from anyone.”
Dewey Shelton spent three days in the Sovah Health-Martinsville Hospital and had to receive plasma, and Juanita Shelton managed her recovery at home.
“You may not feel sick, but you are — this stuff is so dangerous,” Juanita Shelton said.
The couple has been managing their situation as carefully as they can, wearing covering when they go to the grocery store and stopping by the pharmacy frequently to keep their prescriptions filled.
“I take a lot of medication and have to get that filled,” Juanita Shelton said.
When the COVID-19 vaccine first became available, the Sheltons said they followed the directions they read in the Bulletin.
“We got an application at the library, and Dewey and I filled out the papers and went straight to the health department and dropped them off,” Juanita Shelton said. “They wouldn’t let Dewey in, so we put them in the dropbox and we haven’t heard a word.
That all changed after an article about their plight appeared in the Bulletin on March 3.
“We have had many calls with helpful information,” Juanita Shelton said. “One lady signed us up at CVS.
“I didn’t want to ask for help, but she volunteered.
“Praise God, we are so grateful.”
Juanita Shelton said the phone rang all day on the day the article was published, and they have been receiving calls from others in the community concerned about them.
She had been trying on her own to sign up but needed some help.
“I also have fibromyalgia, and my fingers and arms burn,” she said. “It’s so hard to get on the computer, and I get so nervous — my nerves are bad.”
The Sheltons don’t have a cell phone, and Juanita Shelton’s tablet is so slow, that by the time she had filled out the online form, the appointments were already filled, she said.
“We could have gone to Greensboro — but that’s too far for us — it’s just out of the question,” she said. “It’s just been a real hard ordeal.”
Population Health Manager Nancy Bell said last week the West Piedmont Health District officials were doing everything they could to reach those who are unable to secure appointments over the internet.
“Some of the older folks are not answering their phones because they don’t recognize the telephone number for the personnel calling them to schedule an appointment,” Bell said.
The Health Department now has a contracted staff in-place and is drilling down the list of people who have not responded and those only with telephone numbers.
“A little bit of diligence on our part may go a long way,” Bell said.
The Virginia Department of Health’s database showed on Monday that more than 14,000 doses had administered in Henry County and almost 3,700 in Martinsville, with 28.1% of the population having had at least one shot (the state average is 21.1). More than 5,400 residents of the city and county (about 8.5%) had been fully vaccinated.
“We’re improving the process as it goes along,” Bell said. “I know sometimes the public wants to pull out their hair, but we’re doing the best we can and getting better.”
Dewey Shelton said it was difficult trying to get anyone to respond until he saw his picture in the paper.
“I read the story, and then the phone started to ring,” Dewey Shelton said. “We got about 25 calls that day.”