WASHINGTON COUNTY, Ore. — Hundreds of staff members at Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center clinics are now better protected from COVID-19, having received the first dose of Moderna's vaccine on Friday.
The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) delivered vaccines to Virginia Garcia on Wednesday. Many Virginia Garcia primary care clinics closed early Friday so frontline staff could get vaccinated.
"That's including dental, pharmacy and any other patient-community facing roles," explained VG's director of quality Sarah Deines. “Our staff has been waiting for the vaccine, and we have been ready for a few weeks."
Deines said the plan was to complete as many vaccinations as possible on Friday, with remaining staff to receive vaccines next Friday, Jan. 15.
"We give tens of thousands of vaccines a year," said medical director Dr. Laura Byerly. "We're now gearing up to give tens of thousands of vaccines as soon possible."
All five Virginia Garcia primary care clinics are approved as certified vaccination locations. Once staff are vaccinated, focus will shift to vaccinating patients, prioritizing those in high-risk categories for illness or exposure.
“We plan to follow public health guidance of prioritization as we begin receiving vaccine doses for our communities,” Byerly said. "We are a community health center serving an at-risk population that has been devastated by this virus. The virus exposed the social and health inequities that already existed in our communities."
Virginia Garcia largely serves frontline essential workers in Washington and Yamhill counties. Many are Latinx farm and migrant workers.
"They don't have a lot of money, a lot of them are uninsured, they cannot do their jobs online," Byerly said.
Higher exposure has resulted in Oregon's Latinx community being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, making up only 13% of the state population, but ranging from 30-40% of positive cases.
Virginia Garcia said it's seeing a 30% positive test rate from its patients.
"Our numbers have consistently since the beginning of the pandemic been two to three times higher than the state average," Deines said.
"How you right an inequity is a hard one, because it does mean applying resources unequally," Byerly added. "It means the person's whose basket is empty—and yours has one—they get one, and you don't get one."
She encouraged people who are waiting for the vaccine to embrace a mindset of patience and compassion.
"I'm going to not a vaccine so they can, because it's hurting them more," Byerly said.
The timeline and availability of patient vaccinations at Virginia Garcia's clinics depends on availability.
"Currently we do not know when the next shipment of vaccine will be received by Virginia Garcia," said Stephanie Saunders, vaccine and lab program manager. "OHA has assured us that going forward there will be regular shipments of the vaccine but cannot give specific dates at this time."
Meanwhile, Virginia Garcia is updating patients online, as many hope for more "normal" days ahead.
"Any arm that gets a vaccine in it gets us one step closer," Byerly said.