Covid-19 Vaccines for Albany Helping Hands Residents
From the March 31, 2021 Albany Democrat-Herald story. 

Retired Dr. Terri Homer give a Johnson & Johnson vaccine at mobile clinic at Albany Helping Hands homeless shelter.

The van has also gone directly to the homes of people who cannot make it to the clinic at the Linn County Fair and Expo Center in Albany. Over the past couple of weeks, the van has been to homes in Gates, Scio and Brownsville. It’s operated by a small team of volunteers and directed by Neva Anderson, Linn County’s emergency preparedness coordinator.

Right now, the van goes to specific locations and sets up small pop-up clinics or readies the doses required for the folks at the home. But the plan is for the van to act as a full-blown clinic in the near future, retrofitting it so that people can simply pull right up alongside and receive their shots right out of the van.

Next week, the van may go out to nearby truck stops. There may also be more stops scheduled at senior living facilities, where the van would again help at-risk communities by taking doses directly to them rather than having to get their residents to Albany or organize a way to get more doses.

Rural residents of Linn County and other folks who may not be able to make it to the mass Covid-19 vaccination clinics in Albany are still getting shots thanks to the mobile vaccination van that’s been rolling for weeks.

 

The van, a Mercedes Sprinter bought this year for $100,000 with federal CARES Act funds, has been driving to various locations around Linn County since March 5. The Linn County Board of Commissioners last week approved $35,000 to resupply it with medical equipment.

 

The van was parked at Albany Helping Hands on Wednesday, doling out Johnson & Johnson vaccines to unhoused individuals.

Helping Hands operates a homeless shelter in Albany, as well as a few transitional housing units for people trying to get back on their feet. Unhoused individuals just became eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations in the latest round of eligibility expansion by the Oregon Health Authority.

“It means a whole lot,” stated a 66 year old retired truck driver who’s currently living out of his car. “I’m afraid at my age.”

He received a free dose of the vaccine Wednesday afternoon at Helping Hands, where Linn County Public Health officials were working. Not only does the mobile vaccination clinic allow the doses to go where they’re needed most, it makes it a lot easier to coordinate clinic visits rather than trying to schedule appointments for all the unhoused people in Linn County.

“It’s been life-changing for us,” said Helping Hands Executive Director Emma Deane. “To coordinate 100-plus people to get to the fairgrounds twice (to get fully vaccinated) would just be a colossal task.”

That’s also why the mobile unit is primarily giving out the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, because it only requires one dose and doesn’t have to be stored at the same low temperatures as the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

Deane pointed out, too, that fewer people have been able to be sheltered at Helping Hands’ facilities during the pandemic — capacity is down to 90 people per night from the normal 130.

“Hopefully, as we get more people vaccinated, that will help us get more people in beds,” she said.

While Benton County has plans to do a similar mobile vaccination unit, it’s not in operation yet. Officials there have partnered with Samaritan Health Services to run vaccination clinics and may be able to use a van provided by Samaritan as its mobile unit. That would be essential for planned clinics out in Blodgett and King’s Valley sometime in April or May.

Right now, Benton County officials are using the term “mobile clinic” to refer to the pop-up-style clinics being conducted at Pioneer Park, for example. These are areas where excess vaccine doses can be delivered in order to administer shots directly where at-risk populations already are.

It’s also important to note that Benton County is loosening its process for how residents can sign up for a vaccine appointment. Before, people had to fill out an eligibility assessment in order to determine if they could even get an appointment scheduled. Now, with eligibility constantly expanding and Oregon’s inventory of vaccines increasing, the process is becoming more open and streamlined.

Early in Oregon’s vaccination campaign, which makes vaccines available to different groups of people in phases, only certain health care workers and at-risk people were eligible. Now, with so many more categories of people — from homeless individuals to professional sectors besides health care — there’s less need to focus solely on certain segments of each group.

“Before, we were very committed to prioritizing within the group,” said Lili’a Neville, Benton County’s joint information center manager. “Now, we have enough supply of vaccine that we don’t have to be as stringent.”

It’s further proof that vaccination campaigns require a lot of moving parts, so ways that each county can streamline the process and deliver doses directly to communities that need them will help ensure that supply matches the demand.

“All of the sudden in the last few weeks, we have hundreds of appointments and they’re spread out over hours,” Neville said. “It’s really flip-flopped from where we were a month ago.”