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Oregon high school clinic draws anti-vaccine protesters

BEND (AP) — A COVID-19 vaccine clinic set up inside a Bend high school attracted anti-vaccine protesters who heckled teenagers as they entered the site, prompting the church that provided a parking lot for the event to call police.

The Bend-La Pine School District will be offering the vaccine at six different clinics at Central Oregon high schools between now and June 3 in hopes of stemming an outbreak that’s sickened at least 95 students and staff in the district, The (Bend) Bulletin reported Friday.

Students showing up for shots Thursday at Bend High School were heckled by protesters, and the school board has received hate mail over the decision to hold the clinics. The clinics in Bend, Sisters and Redmond will be staffed by Mosaic Medical.

These clinics are starting as about 5% of the Bend-La Pine Schools student body is quarantining due to being in close contact with fellow students who caught COVID-19. In the past 28 days, 95 students and staff members in Bend-La Pine have tested positive, according to the district.

Teens are by far the least-vaccinated group in Deschutes County. As of April 18, only 4% of residents 19 or younger had received a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to county data. The vaccines are approved only for those 16 and older.

Anti-vaccine protesters who gathered to shout at students going into the clinic Thursday dispersed after a nearby church called police. The protesters and some students were parking in the church's lot, said Morgan Schmidt, an associate pastor at First Presbyterian.

Before the school vaccine clinics began, Bend-La Pine School Board members received hundreds of angry emails from anti-vaccine activists, said board member Julie Craig. Most had the exact same, copy-and-paste wording, but a few were especially nasty, she said.

Board member Carrie McPherson Douglass shared emails with The Bulletin that called the school board Nazis for allowing vaccine clinics in the schools and one in which a parent promised to “exact cruel and inhuman revenge” if their child was harmed by the vaccine.

In the state of Oregon, teens 15 and older can agree to medical services — including immunization — without parental consent, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

During the Bend-La Pine School Board work session meeting Tuesday, Craig said she was furious about the emails.

“I’m frankly so done with it,” she told the newspaper. “I’m so disappointed in community members who feel that is the best way to try and have a conversation, when they don’t agree with something that we’re doing.”