Columbia County Public Health and Oregon Health & Science University are starting up vaccination clinics Friday, April 23, as the supply of COVID-19 vaccine doses has increased.
The vaccine clinics will be held in a building in Scappoose across from the OHSU clinic on weekends and some weeknights.
The county's public health director, Michael Paul, said the clinics are planned for weeknights and weekends to target residents who work during the day, particularly outside of the county.
All Oregonians age 16 and older are now eligible for vaccination.
"For the people who aren't getting an appointment this week, it's going to be about what's convenient, what's accessible," Paul said.
Since OHSU is the provider running the local clinic, it made sense to have the location in the same business park as OHSU's Scappoose clinic, Paul explained.
The clinic can vaccinate 150 people per hour, which would work out to 450 people on a weeknight session, which are planned for Wednesdays and Fridays from 5 to 8 p.m.
OHSU is also allocating 600 doses per week at its Hillsboro Stadium vaccination site — just down Cornelius Pass Highway, overlooking Highway 26 — specifically for Columbia County residents.
The site will initially offer the Moderna two-dose vaccine, but officials plan to add in Pfizer's vaccine in the next few weeks. That will open up options for 16 to 18-year-olds.
Moderna is only approved for people 18 years and older, while Pfizer is approved for ages 16 and above.
"It's been a long couple of weeks getting it ready but we're excited to be setting it up," Paul said.
Joe Skariah, the county's health officer and a family medicine doctor at OHSU Scappoose, is leading a group of 30 first-year medical students and additional researchers, training them to operate the clinics. They've committed to supporting the clinics through the end of June.
The vaccination events will also be staffed by OHSU staff and volunteers and the county's team of volunteers.
The events are in addition to other options for residents, including pharmacies, Legacy Health, Columbia Health Services and others.
The Oregon Health Authority FEMA team will soon be offering more vaccination opportunities for North County, Paul said.
Columbia County has consistently had one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in Oregon. In early stages, when eligibility was limited to occupations like healthcare workers and educators, officials said the low rate was because the county has comparatively few teachers and medical workers. As eligibility opened up, officials said the state wasn't allocating enough doses to Columbia County.
Columbia County is still far below the statewide average. Only 28.5% of residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine, compared to an average of 38.5% statewide.
The gap between Columbia County and other counties is narrowing, though. At the end of January, Columbia County's rate was half the statewide average. As of April 23, the local rate was roughly 75% of the statewide average.
Fourteen counties across the state asked OHA to pause sending first doses because providers were unable to find enough people willing to get the vaccine. Columbia County is not one of those counties. Four of the 14 have lower vaccination rates than Columbia County.
"We're still struggling at a county level," said Skariah, who personally administered Gov. Kate Brown's vaccination in March.
Making appointments more accessible is one part of increasing the vaccination rate, but finding willing recipients will become more of a challenge once most eager recipients have gotten their shots.
"We want to make sure we talk about this in a bigger picture: How does Columbia County care for itself?" Skariah said.
Skariah said that motivating vaccine-hesitant people to receive the vaccination will require communicating three things about the vaccine: that it is safe, it is effective and it is a way to care for the community.
For those who are hesitant about the vaccine's impacts or simply haven't had the time or motivation to make an appointment, hearing information from people who they "identify as being safe sources of information" can be helpful, Skariah said, whether that means friends, school nurses, primary care physicians or others.
The vaccination clinic is at 51385 SW Old Portland Road. Appointments are required.
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