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'It's like a shot of hope'

ASHLAND — Two drive-through clinics organized by Ashland Family Practice have connected 782 residents with a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Family Nurse Practitioner Cindy Parks, co-owner of the practice.

Ashland Family Practice is approved by the Oregon Health Authority as a COVID-19 Moderna vaccine provider.

Volunteers administered first doses Feb. 13 and Feb. 28 and second doses are scheduled for administration March 13 and March 28. The first clinic saw patients age 80 to 103 and some community members who live with an Ashland Family Practice patient, Parks said. About 100 non-patients were vaccinated from a waitlist compiled by Ashland Senior Services.

Upcoming vaccination events are only for people who received their first dose at one of the previous clinics.

Parks said Ashland Family Practice modeled a vaccination format based on Jackson County Expo events, CDC drive-through clinic guidelines and independent research and planning.

On Thursday, Parks said she intended to do home visits for people who need their second dose of vaccine and cannot travel to a clinic because of a recent stroke or other serious medical condition — representing about 20 of her patients.

Parks said a plan to funnel most of the county’s vaccine supply toward the Community COVID-19 Vaccination Clinic was in place just before the practice’s second drive-through clinic Feb. 28, which initiated some concern about continued vaccine access for her patients locally.

“We just explained that there’s a lot of people that shouldn’t be driving to Medford and there’s people that can’t stand in line at that Asante thing,” Parks said. “I stood for an hour and a half outside when I got mine and that’s not really compatible with a lot of old people.”

Parks said her explanation was effective as far as securing vaccine to finish vaccinating her patient groups through the March 28 clinic.

The future for small-scale clinic vaccine distribution is uncertain, Parks said, with a strong push to centralize at the community clinic but anticipated availability of the Janssen vaccine — there may be enough to go around.

For now, the reward of seeing senior residents vaccinated is worth the extra work for herself and volunteers involved in the effort, including her own family members who make calls to schedule vaccinations, Parks said.

“Everyone in the cars are crying. It’s like a shot of hope,” she said. “Even the first one, people (say), ‘I’m going to be able to see my grandchildren and hug them again.’”

With about 40 volunteers already signed up to manage each clinic, Parks has started turning away people interested in helping out. Retired doctors, nurses, police officers, friends and neighbors are showing up en masse to make the clinics run efficiently, she said.

Each box of 100 doses comes with syringes, alcohol swabs, vaccine cards and a couple of face shields. Bandages, gloves, alcohol gel and propane heaters to keep volunteers warm come from the practice’s budget.

“We’re definitely spending our money, but we want to vaccinate people,” Parks said.

Each clinic is prescheduled to distribute an exact number of doses such that not one vaccine dose has been wasted, she said.

A waitlist sorted by age and chronic condition ensures any extra vaccine in a box goes to those in the priority group rather than “vaccine vultures” — non-priority, younger people who drop by every clinic in the hope of getting vaccinated, Parks said.

Paul Rostykus, retired physician, volunteered as a vaccine administrator at the Expo and coordinator for both Ashland Family Practice vaccination events.

Apart from obtaining the vaccine through Jackson County, the Ashland clinics are entirely a non-governmental volunteer effort, he said.

After observing what worked well at the Expo, where thousands came through for vaccination daily, Rostykus said he imposed similar protocols for the smaller-scale Ashland clinics.

Only one person handles needles to reduce needle sticks, paperwork for each recipient must be completed before the next vaccination is given and cars must be parked and turned off to avoid injury, he said.

“From my point of view, it’s great to be part of a process that’s providing a service that isn’t otherwise easily available here in Ashland,” Rostykus said.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.

FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2021, file photo, empty vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are seen at a vaccination center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in Las Vegas. The makers of COVID-19 vaccines are figuring out how to tweak their recipes against worrisome virus mutations — if and when the shots need an update. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)