Wheeler County is a small county in the North central region of Oregon. According to the Wheeler County website, it is the least populated and one of the most beautiful counties in the state. The terrain consists of deep river canyons and high timbered mountains. Close to one-third of the county is forest and towns are few and far between.
When the Pfizer vaccine was approved for 12 and over, the county needed to get vaccine to youth before school got out. In a sparsely populated county like Wheeler with few transportation options, it would be a hardship for youth to make their way to a vaccination clinic.
Kristen Dillon, a branch director on the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) Vaccine Planning Unit, connected with Shelby Hahn, the public health administrator for Wheeler County. Kristen remembered that Dr. Edwards, the medical director for Wheeler County, lives in Hood River. Hood River is a hub for Pfizer vaccine supply and agreed to supply doses to Wheeler. Dr. Edwards planned to take them out that same week. But there was a roadblock – neither place had a frozen transport cooler available.
Sami Jildeh, who works on logistics management for the Vaccine Planning Unit had recently secured a supply of frozen transport coolers and temperature trackers that were stored at the Portland State Office Building for urgent use. This was exactly what they were meant for.
Sami got to work preparing the transport equipment for overnight shipping from Portland to Hood River, when an OHA contact at the Portland State Office building was able to instead hand off the necessary equipment to an employee who lives in the Gorge.
They delivered the cooler to Hood River that same evening, its panels went in the freezer the next day, and the vaccine made the trip to Wheeler County in time to vaccinate youth before school ended. The county vaccination counts for youth ages 12 through 17 started rising the next week.
This is an example of the quick, creative thinking that is happening throughout Oregon to ensure that the vaccine is available to those who may not be able to get to a clinic or pharmacy.
To learn where to get vaccinated go to the How to find a COVID-19 vaccine in Oregon webpage.