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Oregon hospitals use COVID vaccine clinics to boost state's slow start

Salem Health hopes to vaccinate 250 people per hour with its clinic, in collaboration with Marion County.

SALEM, Ore — Several Oregon hospitals are organizing vaccine clinics for priority groups to help improve the state's slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations.

So far, Oregon has vaccinated about 65,000 people, with about 1,000 people having received both doses.

To help increase the numbers, Salem Health and Marion County worked together to organize a pop-up vaccine clinic at the Oregon State Fairgrounds and Convention Center.

Raeann McDonald, executive director of Willamette Lutheran Retirement Community in Keizer, received the vaccine there Thursday.

"I have a responsibility to be a good example to my staff and the residents," McDonald said.

Anyone living or working in Marion County who qualifies under the Oregon Health Authority’s Phase 1a Vaccine Sequencing Plan can receive a vaccination.

That includes health care workers, first responders, corrections workers, and people involved in long-term care or senior living.

Joshua Free, Salem Health's chief pharmacy officer, said about 250 people are getting vaccinated per hour at the clinic.

"We have the opportunity to serve our community," said Amie Wittenberg of Salem Health.

People are asked to bring ID and insurance information, although insurance is not required to receive the vaccine for free. People must also answer questions about how they fit eligibility requirements for Phase 1a.

The clinic will be open the following hours:

  • Thursday Jan. 7 and Friday, Jan. 8 —  8 a.m. to 6 p.m. 
  • Saturday, Jan. 9 and Sunday, Jan. 10 — 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Monday, Jan. 11 — 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

OHSU plans to offer a similar clinic at its South Waterfront campus in Portland, possibly by Saturday.

It will focus on people who work as in-home caretakers.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) represents about 32,000 home-care workers across Oregon. Melissa Unger with the SEIU said many of those workers have been invisible during the pandemic.

"They don't have a centralized employer," she explained.

In a matter of days, SEIU and OHSU came up with a vaccination clinic plan to help bridge the gap.

"If we don't create a plan, it's hard to get in line," Unger said, explaining the union will connect with members to schedule vaccinations.

"None of us in the hospital industry had been through a pandemic," OHSU COO Joe Ness added. "With this, we're having to reinvent all of it from the beginning, during the crisis itself."

Back in Marion County, Raeann McDonald left the fairgrounds Thursday, vaccinated with her first dose.

"Didn't even feel it!" McDonald told the clinician.

She said the Willamette Lutheran Retirement Community she helps run is on the national CDC list to get vaccine priority from CVS. However, she wanted to get the shot earlier to continue protecting vulnerable people around her—a reminder of the vaccine's safety and of hope for a more "normal" tomorrow.

"I have faith and I believe it's the right thing to do," she said.

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