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La Clinica gives COVID-19 shots to vulnerable people

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune La Clinica Nursing Director Becky Sherman shows U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a tent stocked with supplies for a drive-thru parking lot vaccination clinic at La Clinica Wellness Center in Medford.
Spanish-speaking workers among those getting vaccinated

La Clinica is trying to make sure Spanish-speaking workers, homeless people and other vulnerable Rogue Valley residents can get COVID-19 shots.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., toured a drive-thru parking lot vaccination clinic at the La Clinica Wellness Center in Medford Wednesday to hear how the effort is unfolding.

“I just want to thank La Clinica for delivering a big dose of hope for vulnerable people in Southern Oregon,” Wyden said.

Launched in mid-March, the La Clinica Wellness Center drive-thru vaccination clinic has been giving shots to nearly 1,000 people a week.

La Clinica has a network of neighborhood health centers, school-based clinics and a bus full of medical and dental gear that serves as a mobile health center.

To reach people who are less likely to have access to medical care, La Clinica is spreading the word about vaccination opportunities through Spanish-speaking radio, word of mouth and local employers, said La Clinica Chief Executive Officer Brenda Johnson.

She said La Clinica is helping to vaccinate workers from Harry & David, Amy’s Kitchen, Naumes, local vineyards and other employers who often rely on workers who are bilingual or primarily speak Spanish.

The mobile health center bus can pay visits to Gospel Mission, Set Free Ministry, the Urban Campground and other places that provide services to people facing homelessness, Johnson said.

La Clinica could use more volunteers to help with the vaccinations, especially nurses and others who are trained to administer shots, she said.

Wyden lauded the many medical professionals who have come out of retirement to help during the pandemic.

Like all populations, Johnson said some vulnerable people in the community are hesitant to get a COVID-19 vaccination.

La Clinica provides information about the safety of the vaccines compared to the health risks of coming down with the COVID-19 virus. It provides COVID-19 shots free to people, although it may bill their insurance, Johnson said.

“We’re trusted and known by the community. It’s easier for people to take us up on our offer,” she said. “We always respect people and their choices.”

Launched in 1989, the nonprofit organization’s mission is to serve diverse people, including those who are vulnerable, live in remote locations or lack insurance or adequate insurance.

La Clinica hopes to have COVID-19 shots available soon at all of its primary care sites. That way, patients can have conversations about vaccination with the primary health care providers they already know and trust, Johnson said.

“We’ll be in this for the long haul,” she said.

Across Oregon, more than 1.3 million people have received either one or both doses of the two-shot Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

The state’s population is more than 4.3 million.

Although the vaccination rollout is bringing hope, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is warning of the dangers of a fourth wave of COVID-19 cases. Highly contagious COVID-19 variants are spreading in the United States, including in Oregon.

Wyden said people feel drained from dealing with the pandemic for more than a year, but he encouraged them to keep up the fight.

“This has been a grueling, grueling year for Oregonians in this community and in every nook and cranny of our state,” he said.

Johnson urged people to get vaccinated and to continue following safety measures like hand-washing and mask-wearing.

“I feel really proud of our organization’s work and I also know that we have a long way to go. We’re not out of the woods,” she said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.