Medical Teams International begins mobile COVID-19 vaccinations
Those familiar with the large red Medical Teams International mobile clinics are used to seeing them delivering dental or medical care to those in need around Oregon. But now those vehicles are being tasked with another job — providing COVID-19 vaccinations for marginalized groups.
Beginning Wednesday, April 7, the Tigard-based, Christian humanitarian organization will begin administering vaccines to Oregon communities that are underserved or lack health insurance.
Three days of clinics already have been set up beginning Wednesday at Mount Olivet Baptist Church in North Portland to serve those marginalized communities after Medical Teams International received permission to distribute COVID-19 shots from the Oregon Health Authority. Six hundred Johnson & Johnson vaccines, or about 200 per clinic, are expected to be administered.
Spanish-speaking volunteers and staff will be available to assist as well as those who speak English, according to Victoria Wilson, spokesperson for Medical Teams International.
"We're partnering with Providence Health System on those clinics and these are the first ones out of the gate," said Martha Newsome, Medical Teams International CEO and president. "This will be sort of a slow start and we hope to get up to a higher level of capacity to be able to keep those clinics going."
Those vaccines will be distributed from the teams' 11 large RV/buses, a recently purchased smaller bus and several rented vehicles with the mobile clinics focusing on serving those who are experiencing homelessness as well as Black, Indigenous (and) People of Color, or BIPOC, communities. BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon has provided a significant gift to fund those clinics.
Wilson said this week's clinics are by appointment only except for the final hour, from 2 to 3 p.m., when drop-ins will be accepted. That was just decided Tuesday, April 6, Wilson added.
Newsome said since Medical Teams International has been conducting a large amount of COVID-19 testing with migrant farm workers in Oregon and Washington.
"We've built a lot of trust with them, so I think that's going to be super-helpful as we switch into doing more vaccinating," she said.
Newsome said when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the non-profit began distributing a large amount of personal protective equipment, or PPEs, through its distribution center.
"Then our team started working on plans to do COVID testing so we've actually, together with our partners, and with the Oregon Health Authority, and the Department of Health in Washington state, provided about 34,000 tests," Newsome said of the agency that provides life-saving medical care for those in crisis including survivors of natural disasters and refugees.
While Medical Teams International previously began COVID-19 testing in Washington and then went to Oregon, this time the organization will start in Oregon and hope to be vaccinating in Washington by the end of the month.
"It's been super-dynamic to figure this out," Newsome said, adding that the Oregon Health Authority is still trying to work with its partners to determine where the medical organization can site its next mobile clinic site. "It's like a big, huge chess board."
Newsome called COVID-19 the "great equalizer." Medical Teams International has historically responded to outbreaks of diseases such as HIV, Ebola or malaria virtually every year, but Newsome said, "This is the first time that we've experienced a global pandemic since the Spanish flu of 1920, and yet (the United States) got hit harder here than our international programs where we serve refugees."
She said she expects vaccinations from the mobile clinics to continue through the summer.
"No one really knows the end point," Newsome said. "The faster we get the vaccines out, the faster we'll be able to sort of ramp down."
Ideally, that will mean some type of herd immunity in the fall, whereupon Medical Teams International would return to COVID-19 testing and providing its mobile dental and health services buses to communities in need.
"I keep telling people we're not going to be safe until we're all safe," Newsome said. "We're in this together, and it's really about getting out of it together, too."
Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional information on the vaccine clinics, including a doubling of the number of vaccinations expected to be administered, according to Medical Teams International.
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