Meeting people where they are at with resources and vaccination in Benton County

With school back in session and school staff vaccination requirements, Benton County Health Services wanted to make sure they made COVID-19 vaccination convenient for students, families and people who work in schools. They reached out to Katrina Doughty, Regional Field Operations Coordinator for OHA’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Unit (CRRU), who supports vaccination efforts in their region and asked if they could collaborate on a mini tour of schools in the county.

Doughty thought it was great idea. “I really try to do events at schools when possible because for a lot of folks it is perhaps the place that feels the safest in the community,” said Doughty. “Their kids go there, they know what the community looks like, they know that it’s a relatively neutral place for a lot of things.”

Together, they scheduled ten events. One evening in Philomath, one evening in Alsea, two evenings in Corvallis and one evening in Monroe, followed by the same five events three weeks later so people could get their second shots if needed.

While they hoped for the events to be well attended, they hadn’t counted on the Pfizer booster recommendation to come through just before the first clinic.

Doughty said, “So we had a busy and robust event with everything you could imagine as there were first dose Pfizers, first dose J & J, some first dose Moderna, second dose Pfizer, second dose Moderna and then also there were some people needing third dose Moderna if they were immunocompromised, and then quite a few folks wanting and qualifying for the Pfizer booster.”

In all, there were 347 doses given across the five events. 163 were given during the two evenings in Corvallis, 83 in Monroe, 70 in Philomath and 31 in Alsea. These numbers may seem small, but they are significant when considering the size of these rural communities, and the distance people would have to drive to get the vaccine.

CRRU van loaded up with food boxes

Doughty acknowledged how difficult it is for people who live in small rural communities to get vaccinated. Many vaccination events in Oregon no longer have funding to provide much needed additional resources such as food boxes at vaccination events. This makes it even harder. Fortunately, Benton County has worked hard to set aside funding for these resources.

According to Doughty, “They know that for the community members who are attending their schools, there’s a high need and cost that students and their families have faced during COVID. Getting time off work or filling up their car with gas so that they can drive to the school or figuring out child care for an infant or whatever the case may be. There are so many barriers to getting vaccinated for folks, and any way that we can relieve that burden and help folks mitigate that expense, we want to do.”

Building a successful vaccination event takes consistency with the support and resources. Offering resources such as food boxes and gas cards helps to support the community and build trust. In a town like Alsea, there’s a mom and pop type of grocery store. You have to drive miles and miles to get to a larger store.

“And housing/shelter is going to be a priority. I understand how the vaccine is falling lower on people’s priorities when the resources are so limited, and the barriers are so significant,” said Doughty. “Anything we can do to promote and to continue having those resources is really helpful.”

There were a few things that stood out about the vaccination events. One was that some parents brought their children to be vaccinated against COVID-19 but hadn’t planned on getting the shot themselves. When vaccination workers would ask if they wanted the vaccine as well, they would decide to go ahead and get the vaccine.

Volunteers and community members at Alsea School vaccination event.
Volunteers and community members at Alsea School vaccination event.

The most surprising story was that an adult man and his mother came to one of the vaccination events. The man was vaccinated but came for his booster shot. His mother, who was in her 90s, told Doughty that she was there for her first shot.

“Oh, that’s exciting, I know it can take a while for people to make up their minds. I’m happy you decided that,” responded Doughty. “Do you have any questions?” She said “Oh no, I don’t mean my first COVID vaccination, I mean I’ve never received a vaccine in my life, and this is my first vaccination.”

Reflecting on the experience after the event, event workers were surprised that someone who grew up seeing people with polio or other vaccine preventable diseases decided that vaccination didn’t feel right for them at the time. They were moved to be able to support her when it did feel right.

Meeting people where they’re at, bringing a resource that people may choose to use, and making it easy for community members is the goal for these mini-tours. This was a win for all the schools!

The next round of the Benton County school mini tour will take place at the following times and locations:

  • Philomath High School: Oct. 18 from 4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
  • Alsea School: Oct. 19 from 4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
  • Corvallis High School: Oct. 20 from 3:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
  • Crescent Valley High School: Oct. 21 from 3:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
  • Monroe High School: Oct. 22 from 3:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

First, second and booster doses of Pfizer/Comirnaty will be available, as well as first or second doses of Moderna and single doses of Johnson & Johnson will be available. The sites will also have free COVID-19 testing, free food boxes and Benton County will be providing $100 gift cards for 1st and 2nd doses, while supplies last.

Find out more about these vaccination events here. Benton County is planning additional school tour dates with Doughty and her team for November and December to continue supporting the community.