Hard work and community impact led the response in the Jackson County FEMA effort

Since April of this year, the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Unit (CRRU), FEMA, the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), Jackson County Health and Human Services, Jackson County Emergency Management and many more partners joined together in an effort to accelerate vaccination for historically underserved communities at high risk of infection in Jackson County. June 15 was the last day of the Jackson County Vaccination Equity Center at the Expo. 

Over 26,000 doses administered in this priority region 

Over 26,000 vaccine doses were administered through this Pilot Community Vaccination Center, the first of its kind in Oregon. Approximately 2,600 of those doses were delivered via the nearly 60 mobile vaccination missions conducted in this priority region, where many residents experience access barriers. Nearly 65% of those served by the mobile missions belong to the Latino/Latina/Latinx community.  

Corinne Corson, Assistant Regional Field Operations Coordinator for Region 5, shared some reflections on the mobile missions. “I hear often from those getting vaccinated at these events that they are doing so because we bring the vaccine to them. They are in environments that are comfortable to them, and events are often led by trusted sources. Because we are there, in their environment, they decide to get vaccinated, often on the spot. People are so very grateful that we will come to their locations to administer sometimes just six or 12 or 21 vaccines.” 

An example of this is the vaccination effort at the Rogue Valley Grower’s Market. At this market the vaccination team encountered folks who would not otherwise get the vaccine. One person had been uncertain about getting vaccinated and made it very clear that they would not go anywhere else to get the vaccine. They received both of their shots at the market and later brought a friend to be vaccinated.  

The vaccination team would also take vaccines, food and water over to the area of the park where people without homes would spend their days. Folks were grateful for the food that they brought even though they didn’t all want to be vaccinated. 

One day, the vaccination team partnered with the local Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS) and WIC offices to give gift cards for Sherm’s Market, a local grocery store, provided by Rogue Food Unites. By the end of the day they had administered 18 first and second doses.  

One man had not been interested in talking with them the first week they saw him, but the next week one he spoke candidly about a chronic health condition he lives with and how he was working with his health care provider to decide when and how to get the vaccine safely.  

Another person told them he was thinking about getting vaccinated but needed more time. Within a short while, he showed up at the booth wanting to get vaccinated. The Mercy Flights vaccinator assisted him with completing his paperwork, and he received his first dose.  

While waiting in observation, a representative from ODHS asked him whether he received benefits. He mentioned that he had before in another state. ODHS staff worked with him for over an hour to get him signed back up for benefits.  

“After, he went back over to get one of his buddies, and they signed him up too”, said Corrine. “Having our partners on location at this site was so very beneficial for us all on this day, especially for these two individuals. When we got ready to leave, the individual who had received his first dose the week prior said, ‘I am grateful for you’”.   

Commitment and team effort, with equity at the center 

Jackson County Public Health staff were crucial support for this effort. The county stepped up in so many ways, from providing leadership for overall site implementation and operations, to training folks on data entry, providing medical oversight, connecting OHA to their existing partners and even transferring vaccine transfer at odd hours.  

Field Operations Director Kassie Clarke expressed heartfelt thanks to this team. “I get emotional when I think about all the incredible, hard work that has gone into Jackson County,” Kassie said. “With the incredible leadership of Field Operations Manager Chris Rushing, this team stood up a massive site and launched mobile missions with less than two weeks’ notice. They hit the ground running and haven’t let up for the past 8 weeks.” 

Kassie also emphasized that the operation has created opportunities for learning and ongoing partnerships that will be carried into future efforts. “It has been a great opportunity to connect more closely with the county and the amazing community-based organizations that serve this area. We have used the FEMA opportunity to develop models for our mobile missions that we will replicate throughout the state. We truly embraced this challenge as an opportunity and this experience will have lasting impacts. I am so proud of this team.” 

The walk-in clinic and some mobile operations will continue, led by Jackson County Health and Human Services in partnership with OHA-CRRU Field Operations.  The fact that these mobile efforts are continuing beyond the demobilization of FEMA operations is a true testament to the partnership and support by the county and community partners to continue these important efforts. 

If you’re a current or previously licensed healthcare professional in Oregon you can register with SERV-OR to volunteer in support of COVID-19 vaccination efforts.