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Head Start administers COVID-19 shots to workers

Dozens of people who work with vulnerable babies and kids got coveted COVID-19 shots Friday at Southern Oregon Head Start — and 13 lucky senior citizens on a wait list received leftover vaccines at the end of the day.

Southern Oregon Head Start nurse Dixie Ramsay administered the shots to workers from Head Start and other organizations that work with local families. Jackson County Public Health provided 68 shots for the one-day parking lot vaccination clinic held in Central Point.

“It’s going to help us open more classrooms,” Katherine Clayton, executive director of Southern Oregon Head Start, said of the vaccination event.

Southern Oregon Head Start’s 27 centers shut down in March 2020 as COVID-19 started spreading across the state. They didn’t get to open back up until October 2020 — and only about half of the children served by Head Start are back attending a hybrid of in-person and online preschool. The other kids are doing online-only preschool.

Southern Oregon Head Start serves more than 1,100 children in Jackson and Josephine counties. The wee ones range from babies to 5-year-olds.

Most come from families that are at or below the poverty level.

“Head Start is much more than preschool,” said Lisa Farlin, Head Start director.

Head Start provides food, diapers, child care and education. It connects families to community services plus physical, dental and mental health care, Farlin said.

“A lot of kids come to school and they count on that food,” she said.

Head Start has been providing grab-and-go meals to get kids through some of the days when they aren’t at school.

It teamed with The Family Nurturing Center for the delivery of food boxes, diapers and activity boxes for homebound families.

The closure of Head Start centers last year and the current limits on in-person learning have been hard on children and parents, Clayton said.

Head Start has prioritized in-person spots for foster and homeless children, kids with disabilities and youngsters whose parents are working or going to school. Classes have been reduced from 20 to 10 kids, and Head Start has stepped up sanitation and safety measures.

Kids younger than 2 don’t wear masks, and masks are optional for the 2- to 5-year-olds. The optional mask-wearing rarely lasts long for the little kids, Farlin said.

Since reopening in October 2020, Southern Oregon Head Start has had only one staff member test positive for COVID-19. That prompted the temporary closure of a center. There have been no reports of children testing positive, Farlin said.

Not all Head Start workers want the COVID-19 vaccine.

Previously, about 70% said they were hesitant to get the new shot, while about 50% now say they’re hesitant to get the shot. Most of those reluctant people are adopting a wait-and-see approach, watching to see how it impacts others who get the shot, Farlin said.

Head Start has provided information about how the COVID-19 vaccines underwent extensive clinical trials. The organization is offering everyone a paid day off on the Friday before spring break if employee vaccination numbers rise to 70% by March 12.

Head Start Health and Nutrition Services Director Sarah Forga, who was helping with the parking lot vaccination clinic Friday, got her first COVID-19 shot at a mass vaccination event at the Jackson County Expo in January. She got her second shot at The Expo Friday at another vaccination event that started Thursday and continues through Saturday.

The two Expo events are only for eligible people with ties to health care, education and nursing homes. Registration is closed for the current Expo event, which only offers booster shots for those who got their first shot in January.

Forga said she wanted to do her part to boost the community’s resilience against COVID-19.

“For me, it’s to protect others around me, and I want to help with working toward herd immunity. I have a lot of trust in science. I know local people who did the clinical trial. It’s important to come together and make the community healthier and protect it,” Forga said.

Kelley Smail, who procures supplies for Head Start, got her first COVID-19 shot at her employer’s parking lot vaccination clinic Friday. She lives with her 75-year-old dad and wants to do her part to help protect him.

Smail was hesitant to get the shot at first but saw that co-workers who participated in the vaccination events at The Expo were fine.

Head Start maintenance worker Sadiki Lawson, who was helping to direct drivers coming to the parking lot clinic, said he got the COVID-19 shot in part because his wife has an autoimmune disorder.

Scientists still aren’t sure whether people who are vaccinated can spread the COVID-19 virus. As they continue to study the virus, public health officials are urging the public to continue safety precautions like mask-wearing, hand-washing and social distancing.

COVID-19 cases are falling in Oregon and Jackson County.

At the end of Friday, Head Start reached out to older people on a wait list who hurried over to get 13 leftover shots.

Although Oregonians 80 and older became eligible for shots last Monday and those 75 and older become eligible Monday, there isn’t enough vaccine in the state or county so far to vaccinate all of the seniors who want shots.

Clayton said the older people who came to Head Start were thankful to get the leftover shots.

“We had a few in tears. They were so excited and so grateful,” she said. “They felt very blessed to be able to get it. We made them our top priority on the wait list because we know they are at risk.”

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

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneJenny Sowell, area assistant at Head Start, receives a vaccine Friday from Head Start nurse Dixie Ramsay at Southern Oregon Head Start in Central Point.