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Oregon National Guard to assist Salem Health with COVID-19 vaccine clinic

National Guard members were activated Friday and will be fully operational in Salem by no later than Tuesday.

SALEM, Ore — Salem Health started vaccinating health care workers and others eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine Thursday at the Oregon State Fairgrounds.

Chief medical officer, Dr. Ralph Yates, said Salem Health administered a total of 1,700 shots on Thursday and 2,100 shots on Friday. On Saturday, they were on track to give 2,500-3,000 shots.

For now, those shots are only being given to people in Marion County who qualify for phase 1A of the state's vaccination plan. 

"Simply because we can only accommodate so many people," explained Yates. "We'd love to be doing the entire state, but the reality is one site can't do that." 

But help is on the way. Responding to criticism of the state's slow COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Gov. Kate Brown on Friday announced the deployment of the Oregon National Guard to assist with vaccinations. 

"Our guard members will be providing logistical and nursing support. The goal is to vaccinate 250 people per hour, vaccinating thousands of Oregonians," Brown said. 

There are 130 guard members supporting Salem Health's vaccination efforts at the state fairgrounds. The National Guard will set up tents nearby and will be ready to start giving shots early next week. 

"Obviously it's going to allow us to continue this operation. This isn't a one-week or a two-week operation. We're going to be doing this for months," said Yates.

But even with the extra help, he's not sure they'll be able to give shots to eligible people who don't live or work in Marion county. 

"All that is going to be based on vaccine availability," said Yates. "That's the big limiting factor right now in terms of what we can do."

Following the 1A group, educators and other school staff will be the state's next immediate priority. The state is attempting to hit a goal of 12,000 vaccine doses administered per day by the end of next week.

With the Oregon National Guard now on board, Dr. Yates is hopeful. 

"This is hope, and hope has started the degree to which we can expand this for more of our citizens."

Oregon National Guard members were activated Friday and will be fully operational in Salem by no later than Tuesday. 

For information about getting vaccinated, visit the Salem Health Facebook page or www.salemhealth.org/covid-vaccine.

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