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County employees hope this new clinic will meet the increased vaccine demand in the region.

COURTESY: WASHINGTON COUNTY - Washington County bilingual employee Luis Peña gestures toward the entrance of the new Washington Street Conference Center vaccine clinic on Wednesday, Jan. 12.  Peña started working for the county as a contact tracer back in August 2020 and later helped with case investigation investigation. Right now he is  helping support the county's clinics.

A new COVID-19 vaccine clinic opened to the public in Hillsboro Monday, Jan. 10, to help meet the recent uptick in vaccine demand.

Oregon health officials report a 22% COVID-19 positive test rate amid the latest omicron surge. The variant, the most contagious yet detected, has driven skyrocketing case counts and a sharp uptick in hospitalizations since late last month.

The Washington Street Conference Center in downtown Hillsboro was always a venue county officials had considered for a vaccine clinic, but it never came to fruition until now.

"We've been seeing really long wait lines, a lot more demand for people getting the vaccine, and a lot higher cases where we're trying to show people how important it is to get vaccinated," said Washington County emergency coordinator Alita Fitz.

COURTESY: WASHINGTON COUNTY - County employees await vaccine patients at the Washington Street Conference Center vaccine clinic on Wednesday, Jan. 12.

The new clinic is located at 102 S.W. Washington St. in Hillsboro and is open from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Thursday. The clinic is only taking walk-ins for now.

People can park on the second floor of the public parking garage and follow signs to the entrance.

County officials hope the new clinic will be a good alternative to well-established vaccination sites like Tektronix in Beaverton, which has seen longer lines in recent weeks.

Vaccine and testing demands spiked significantly across the country over the holidays, as people scrambled to get booster doses and some reassurance that they wouldn't be spreading the virus unknowingly to others.

Oregon has a higher vaccination rate than the national average — some 74.3% of Oregonians age 18 and older are considered fully vaccinated, according to the Oregon Health Authority, versus the U.S. rate of 62.7% — but the OHA says only 37% of adults in the Beaver State have received booster doses.

While studies and real-world data suggest that people who have been vaccinated have a significantly higher degree of protection even against omicron than the unvaccinated population, they are also clear that boosters dramatically amplify that level of protection.

Fitz has been planning vaccine clinics in Washington County or a full year now. She's proud to say that the process is much smoother than it was in the beginning.

"We really hit a lot of bumps in the first six months, but we're always improving, and what was great about those first clinics was that they were really large," she said, "so we learned a lot of lessons. And then we went down to the small mobile clinics, and it was more personalized and a lot more one-on-one interaction. So we learned that as well. And now we're in this next phase where it's (both) large and personalized."

The amount of people flocking to clinics in Washington County for vaccines has nearly doubled in the last month or so, said the clinic's medical lead, Rachel Griffith.

The Washington Street Conference Center clinic administered more than 200 vaccine doses during its first two days, she added.

"The majority are boosters," Griffith said. "And especially right now we're seeing a lot of the younger adults who just became eligible coming in for their boosters."

There were at least a few people coming in for their very first vaccine dose, however — something that Fitz said "warmed her heart."

Hillsboro resident Codie Snow rested in the clinic's waiting room after receiving her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. She said she found out about the clinic from a friend's Facebook post.

While Snow has been eligible to get the vaccine for months, she didn't realize until quite recently that uninsured people can get the vaccine for free.

"I'm a little nervous (about the symptoms), but I know I'll be fine," she said.

Charles Hill came to the clinic to get his third dose of Moderna. He was ready to get it over with.

"I just wanted to get it while I can before it's too late," he said.

Vay-Ar, who did not give a last name, got his booster to protect himself and his wife and kids. He said one of his kids is still too young to get the vaccine, and he wants to keep all his family safe from the virus.

Washington County is one of the top vaccinated counties in Oregon, with a vaccination rate hovering around 87%, according to data from the Oregon Health Authority.

But the definition of "fully vaccinated" is quickly changing.

Fitz said that starting Feb. 1, Washington County employees will only be considered "fully vaccinated" if they are boosted.

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