Gov. Kate Brown visits Forest Grove vaccination clinic
Gov. Kate Brown stopped by Forest Grove Wednesday evening, Sept. 22, where a combination of government mandates and hyperlocal organizing have driven COVID-19 vaccination rates higher than any other county in Oregon.
Washington County, Oregon's second-most populous county as well as one of its most racially diverse, leads the state with an adult vaccination rate over 80%.
Brown visited a community vaccine clinic hosted by Adelante Mujeres and the county government at the Forest Grove Farmers Market.
The Forest Grove-based nonprofit organization has been focused on community outreach for Spanish speakers and others who fall outside the realm of workplace requirements and typical government messaging.
The nonprofit has a team of nine community health workers, or promatores, who specialize in individualized vaccine persuasion. In other words, they work to understand the concerns of people who aren't vaccinated yet, or the obstacles to them getting vaccinated, and help to assuage those concerns or find a way around those obstacles.
"When we speak their language and can explain the system and how it works, the unvaccinated feel confident in trusting us," promatora Rosario Echeverria said in Spanish. "Everybody has their beliefs. We ask, 'What do you know and what do you think?' and counter what they've heard on the internet or in the media with real information."
Brown praised Adelante Mujeres' approach to encouraging people to get vaccinated, which includes incentives for free goods from the farmers market.
However, while Brown has encouraged Oregonians to learn the facts about the COVID-19 vaccine and choose to "take the shot," she has also wielded her executive authority to require tens of thousands of Oregon workers to get vaccinated.
Under Brown's executive orders, public school staff, healthcare workers and many state employees will need to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 by Oct. 18.
That meant not everyone at the Forest Grove Farmers Market vaccine clinic Wednesday was happy about it.
"It was upsetting to find out you either get the shot or I'll lose my job. I work in education. We were told we have to," Shannon Alfaro said, shortly after receiving her shot at the community vaccine clinic.
She explained, "I came down here today because my livelihood was threatened."
Brown gave no apology for her approach, and she indicated that she would welcome further mandates from the federal government.
Earlier this month, President Joe Biden announced the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is developing regulations to require vaccines for all employees at companies with more than 100 employees.
"We know requiring people to get vaccinations encourages more people to get vaccinated, and that's what we need to do if we want to get out of this pandemic," Brown said. "We have deployed mandates for state executive branch employees, K-12 education employees, and for healthcare workers and hospital systems. We are waiting to see what happens with the federal OSHA system and will be working with the Biden-Harris team to implement the federal proposal."
While public health officials and promatoras alike agree that vaccine skepticism is a real impediment to their goal of getting as many eligible people as possible vaccinated, it is not the only barrier.
In Umatilla County, where the adult vaccination rate is 51%, public health director Joseph Fiumara told Pamplin Media Group that the vaccine isn't accessible for every resident.
"One area we do lack is in regards to transportation," Fiumara said in an email earlier Wednesday. "If someone is not able to get to a vaccination site, it is a barrier that continues to exist for areas of our county."
That problem isn't limited to Eastern Oregon.
According to the latest data from the Oregon Health Authority, 59.3% of adult Latinos in Washington County have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Organizers with Adelante — as well as Centro Cultural de Washington County, a Cornelius-based nonprofit that has also worked to broaden vaccine access — say that mobile clinics at farmers markets, schools, churches and other community events are key to reaching everybody.
Washington County has a constellation of nonprofits and other community organizations working together to reach as many people as possible, which officials say has been key in achieving the state's highest vaccination rate.
Although the Brown administration hopes that state and federal mandates will drive rates higher elsewhere in the state, that volunteer capacity and collective effort isn't something every county in Oregon has.
"The quantity and quality of community-based collaboration incorporated by our county allowed us to persevere," said Daniel Altamirano Hernandez, Centro Cultural's COVID-19 response manager. "Creating space for community leaders to address community needs through advocacy and action, sometimes in non-traditional ways, has been valuable to our response."
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