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COVID-19 vaccination event at Expo could reach 9,500

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Organizers of a COVID-19 vaccination event at the Jackson County Expo hope to vaccinate up to 9,500 people in education and health care over the course of three days after Providence offered thousands more shots.

The Asante and Providence hospital systems had already committed to providing 6,000 shots, but after the first day went so well Thursday, Providence offered up to 3,500 more, organizers said Friday.

“Providence is providing additional vaccines because of how well the event is going and the response that we’ve received here,” said Providence Medford Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Chris Pizzi.

The drive-thru event started Thursday morning, ran from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday, and continues from 9 to 4:30 Saturday — unless it reaches the 9,500 goal early and closes.

To register and see instructions and eligible categories of people, visit asante.org/covid-19/vaccination-events/.

Nearly 6,000 people had registered by Friday morning, according to Asante.

“We had a great first day of getting our community vaccinated and hopefully getting our community back to reopening and back to normal,” Steve Lambert of the Jackson County Emergency Operations Center said Friday.

Organizers initially hoped they could get through 2,000 people each day.

“It was a fantastic day yesterday. We far exceeded our expectations of what we would be able to do. Right now we know we vaccinated over 2,500 individuals,” Asante Vice President of Quality and Patient Safety Holly Nickerson said Friday morning.

Lambert said National Guard members who are helping with the event said it should be a national model for how to run a drive-thru mass vaccination clinic.

A range of community partners and volunteers have teamed up to stage the clinic.

Lambert said participants told him they expected the process to take about an hour and a half, but the longest time he heard of to get through the line was 50 minutes.

Teachers, other school staff, child care providers and those involved in early childhood education are eligible to be vaccinated at the event, along with many categories of people with connections to health care.

Sandra Sibert, a secretary with the Medford School District, said she was initially on the fence about whether to get the COVID-19 vaccine. But she decided to go ahead and get the shot to help protect her parents, who are in their 80s.

Sibert also wants to do what she can to help students return to in-person learning.

“It’s important that kids go back to school. They’re missing the social aspect, and that’s causing a lot of emotional stress. It’s really important they go back to school and have learning in person. A lot of kids are struggling with online learning,” she said.

Humberto Osorio-Perez, a firefighter and emergency medical technician with Jackson County Fire District No. 3, got the COVID-19 vaccine a few weeks ago.

People involved in health care started receiving the vaccination in mid-December.

Osorio-Perez said he experienced some arm soreness a few days after the shot.

He was working at The Expo event, keeping an eye on people to make sure they didn’t suffer an allergic reaction to the shot. Paramedics have supplies on hand to reverse allergic reactions. They watch people for at least 15 minutes in their cars after they get vaccinated.

Around the world, some people — especially those with a history of severe allergies — have had severe allergic reactions to the shot.

Osorio-Perez said the worst thing he’s seen so far at The Expo event was some people experiencing hot flashes after getting the shot. He believes their symptoms were due to anxiety and fear about the new vaccine.

EMTs talk to people and coach them to help them relax, he said.

“A lot of people are alone and they have no one to talk to,” Osorio-Perez said.

He said it was important to him to get the vaccine so he could help protect his family. He’s exposed to a wide cross-section of the public through his job and doesn’t want to infect his loved ones.

Co-workers Rick Austin and Shawn Kolpak observed social distancing rules and came to the vaccination event driving separate vehicles. They took the opportunity to chat with each other through their vehicle windows as they waited the 15 minutes under observation for allergic reactions.

Austin and Kolpak work in food service for the Central Point School District.

“Quick and easy,” was how Austin described the process at Jackson County’s largest COVID-19 vaccination event so far.

Austin said he is a supporter of the state’s phased vaccination rollout process that allowed health care workers to get vaccinated first.

“They take care of you if you get sick,” he said.

Austin said he’s grateful vaccinations opened up for those involved in education. He had a message for those who made the event at The Expo possible.

“Thank you,” he said.

Kolpak said he was going back and forth about whether to get the COVID-19 vaccine. He doesn’t typically take the time to get an annual flu shot, but decided it was important to get the COVID-19 vaccination.

“It’s nice to keep my family safe because I’m out working in public,” Kolpak said.

Many senior citizens have expressed frustration that they aren’t eligible for the event unless they fall in a health care or education category.

Oregon’s plan calls for vaccinating those workers first, then opening up shots to people 80 and older Feb. 8. Other age groups will follow in subsequent weeks.

Gov. Kate Brown said vaccinating educators before senior citizens will help kids get back in school.

“This choice represents a rapid action that will have an outsized impact on Oregon kids. If we were to vaccinate every Oregon senior first, the harsh reality is that many of our educators would not get vaccinated this school year — and Oregon kids would continue to suffer,” Brown said in a Friday press conference.

She continued, “If we were to reverse that, and prioritize the needs of Oregon kids, it puts a two-week delay on beginning vaccinations for seniors who live independently. I know so many Oregon grandparents are happy to hold out just two more weeks in an effort to help get their grandchildren back into the classroom as quickly and safely as possible.”

Vaccinations for nursing home residents began in mid-December.

Organizers of the event at The Expo know the wait is frustrating for senior citizens, said Tanya Phillips, health promotion program manager for Jackson County Public Health.

Local providers want to start vaccinations for seniors as soon as the state allows them to do so, she said.

“We’re really eager to begin vaccinating people 65 and older. They are a high-risk population. I know that group really wants that vaccine, and we really want to be able to give it to them as well. So, we’re working on that, and I just ask that people be patient. The sooner we get through these other phases, we’ll be ready to vaccinate 65 and older,” Phillips said.

She said not everyone in the health care and education groups needs to be vaccinated before providers can start giving shots to older people. Providers plan to start vaccinating people 80 and older beginning Feb. 8 while continuing to vaccinate health care and education workers.

People involved in health care plus educators, K-12 school staff and child care workers are eligible for the vaccination event in Jackson County.

Local school officials have said cafeteria workers, bus drivers and others who provide services for students should get vaccinated along with teachers and other school staff.

Eligible people with ties to health care include hospital staff, nursing home staff and residents, tribal health program workers, paramedics and other first responders, health care interpreters, people in adult foster care, people in group homes for people with developmental or intellectual disabilities and their caregivers, hospice workers, mobile crisis care workers, therapists, dentists, correctional employees, nonemergency medical transport workers, adults and age-eligible children with medical conditions or disabilities who receive services in their homes, and paid or unpaid caregivers — including parents — of medically fragile children or adults who live at home.

Registering in advance will speed up the process for participants, although people who didn’t register will be accepted if they fit into eligible categories and enough vaccine remains.

People must wear masks and are advised to bring drinks and snacks because of possible wait times. Portable toilets are available.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

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A mass vaccination event is held at the Jackson County Expo on Friday. (Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune)