Washington County has launched a mobile vaccine team as health experts warn of another crossroads in the fight against COVID-19.
The county's mobile vaccine team, which launched last month, aims to increase vaccinations at farmers' markets, community events and in specific neighborhoods where people have been slower to get the vaccine, said Louisa Partain, a senior program coordinator with the county's health department.
The approach of using data to bring vaccines where people are is the same as that of the mobile vaccination team operated by Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, which has been running for months.
But it comes as the county, like much of Oregon and other states, faces the largest surge of COVID-19 since late April, largely driven by the highly contagious delta variant, according to state health officials.
New infection modeling released last week by the Oregon Health Authority suggested the state could have more than 1,200 new cases and almost 100 new hospitalizations every day by mid-August.
Additionally, new data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests fully vaccinated people can spread the delta variant if they become infected. It is still very rare for fully vaccinated people to become seriously ill with COVID-19.
Washington County reported 98 new cases on July 27, a number not seen since the first week of May. Overall, case counts have been ticking upward.
"Vaccination could save your life," said Mary Sawyers, communications coordinator for Washington County Public Health.
While Washington County has maintained the highest vaccination rate among adults of any county in the state for weeks, with 71.6% of people fully vaccinated, vaccine providers are struggling to make large gains among Black and Latino residents and in more rural zip codes.
Partain says the slow progress among such groups has been expected as health officials work to overcome barriers, including lack of access to public health information, transportation, paid time off work and child care.
"It has been a challenge for people to get to a vaccine clinic," Partain said. "If we can get our clinic a little closer to them, we want to make sure we can do that."
Putting a stripe of the population that simply will never get the vaccine aside, vaccine providers are still relying on the help of community-based organizations to help overcome distrust of government brought on by systemic racism, Sawyers said.
She said vaccine providers and volunteers are working to bring vaccine information to people who don't access traditional communication channels.
"We're still seeing people who didn't get basic information about vaccines like that they're free and you don't have to have your Social Security number," Sawyers said. "They're not on social media, they don't watch the news."
Partain said the work of the mobile vaccination team is less about persuasion and more about providing accurate information and being ready to provide vaccines.
"We spend a good portion of our time in the mobile clinic just talking with people who have questions, who don't have accurate information about the efficacy about vaccines," Partain said. "That work takes time."
Sawyers said the county is incentivizing people by providing them with gift cards to the businesses and markets where the mobile clinic is set up.
The county's mobile vaccine team is providing vaccinations Tuesdays through Saturdays, often at multiple locations in one day. People can view a schedule here.
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