The nonprofit healthcare provider primarily serves groups who have been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus.

PMG FILE PHOTO: - Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center's wellness center in Cornelius.The Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center received its first shipment of vaccines for COVID-19 last week.

The nonprofit healthcare provider announced it received the vaccine produced by biotechnology company Moderna on Wednesday, Jan. 6, and would begin vaccinating frontline healthcare workers at five primary care clinics by Friday.

Oregon's 300,000 healthcare workers have been identified by state officials as the first group to receive vaccines.

Virginia Garcia primarily serves low-income residents, the Latino community, and immigrants who have been shown to be at a high risk of contracting COVID-19.

"We are very excited about the recent shipment of vaccines for our staff," said Sarah Deines, director of quality for Virginia Garcia, in a statement. "Our staff has been waiting for the vaccine and we have been ready for a few weeks. We plan to implement as many vaccinations as possible this Friday, with the remaining staff receiving vaccines next Friday (Jan. 15)."

Virginia Garcia's primary care clinics in Beaverton, Cornelius, Hillsboro, McMinnville and Newberg have all been approved as certified vaccination locations, the healthcare provider said.

Areas of western Washington County where Virginia Garcia clinics are located continue to have among the highest case counts per capita in the state, according to data from the Oregon Health Authority.

Such areas have high populations of people who identify as Hispanic or Latino. The group has accounted for 40% of the total cases of COVID-19 in Washington County, while it makes up only 15% of the total population, according to county data.

Once all staff has received the vaccine, Virginia Garcia will look to vaccinate patients, prioritizing those who would be at high risk if they become sick with COVID-19, as well as those who are at high risk for exposure, Virginia Garcia said.

"We plan to follow public health guidance of prioritization as we begin receiving vaccine doses for our communities," said Dr. Laura Byerly, medical director for Virginia Garcia. "We are a community health center serving an at-risk population that has been devastated by this virus. The virus exposed the social and health inequities that already existed in our communities. Ensuring our patients have early, and easy, access to the vaccine is (a) top priority for us. Obviously, we would like that to begin as soon as possible."

Like many healthcare workers around the state, officials at Virginia Garcia aren't sure when and how many patients will receive vaccines, the healthcare provider said.

Oregon has been slower than many other states to administer vaccines. Officials have cited issues with cold storage, holidays and shipment unreliability as contributing to the slow rollout.

"Currently we do not know when the next shipment of (the) vaccine will be received by Virginia Garcia," said Stephanie Saunders, vaccine and lab program manager at Virginia Garcia. "OHA has assured us that going forward there will be regular shipments of the vaccine but cannot give specific dates at this time."

Last week, Gov. Kate Brown called on health officials to roll out vaccines quicker, aiming for a benchmark of 12,000 vaccinations per day.

You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.