Drive-thru Covid vaccine clinic off to a slow start at the Ontario fairgrounds

A special vaccination clinic at the Malheur County Fairgrounds with evening hours is geared to serve people who may not have the ability to take time off work during the day. (The Enterprise/Liliana Frankel)

ONTARIO – A special Covid vaccination event got off to a slow start last weekend, but residents have several more days to get the shots at the Malheur County Fairgrounds in Ontario.  

The drive-thru clinic is being offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in partnership with the Oregon Health Authority and the Malheur County Health Department.

The event offers Moderna vaccinations to anyone over the age of 18, and no appointments are needed. The hours are 4 to 8 p.m. through this Friday. 

Health workers vaccinated 43 people Friday, 44 people Saturday, and 29 people Sunday at the special clinic. 

“Do we have the capacity to do a lot more than that?” said Sarah Poe, health department director. “Absolutely. However, compared to 116 people not having the vaccine, this is a success.”

As of April 19, all Oregonians over the age of 16 are eligible for a Covid vaccine, although only the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for use in 16- and 17-year-olds. 

The event was scheduled as fewer people have been showing up for vaccines, and more of the county’s population gets vaccinated. The local turnout is slowing despite the fact that the county has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Oregon.

Poe said the drive-thru format is a draw for many people.

“There are plenty of people who struggle with mobility or don’t want to wait in line” she said.

It also is the first time Malheur County has offered vaccinations on the weekend. Officials hoped that would help reach people who aren’t able to get out of work for the county’s regular Thursday vaccination program. 

In a bid to connect with the county’s large Mexican population, the kickoff was also attended by Ricardo Gerardo Higuera, the Mexican consul in Boise, and his staff. 

“Our Latino community may be underrepresented in our vaccination distribution efforts at this time, and that’s why were so focused on improving access, and also why this FEMA event has been so crucial – to have eight solid days with non-traditional business hours,” said Poe. 

“Our plan to fight the pandemic has been a full priority,” said Higuera, describing his office’s outreach during the past year. “We are spreading information through social media, the radio, and daily when we receive people in our offices. Our most important labor has been conscientization.” 

About vaccine hesitancy, Poe said, “I think there is a misconception that it’s all old people dying, who had lots of underlying conditions. At this point every new case is heartbreaking, because it’s preventable.”

She urged people to spread the word.

“The most compelling message is delivered one on one with someone you are close to,” she said. “Share that you yourself have been vaccinated – that’s important – then, that you care about the person and want them to be protected as well. Then, asking if you can help them get vaccinated or find more information.” 

The first 50 people who attend the vaccine clinic at the fairgrounds each day will receive a $5 barbecue voucher for the Smokin’ Franny’s food truck at the site. 

On Friday, April 23, Higuera and his staff will once again be present to close the event, alongside representatives from local Spanish-language radio program Radio Rancho. 

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.


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