Last week, the Umatilla County Health Department set up a vaccine distribution clinic in a parking lot at the Pendleton Convention Center. Nearly 600 people received vaccine doses over two days from the safety of their cars. If sufficient vaccine doses do eventually arrive, the Health Department says they’re ready to use this model to vaccinate thousands of county residents in the coming months.

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Although the event was not publicly advertised, Joseph Fiumara, the Public Health Director of Umatilla County, said there were over 50 cars lined up on the first day before the event even began. After receiving the shot, participants were asked to park and wait for 15 minutes before being allowed to drive away.

“You add a car into that mix and there’s definitely some additional safety factors that have to be taken into account,” said Fiumara, “if you’ve got somebody who’s prone to fainting or doesn’t handle needles well or something along those lines.”

The event was targeted at health care workers and people who live in congregate care facilities but operated on the honor system. “The staff were instructed: ‘Just believe what they tell you and move from there,’” said Fiumara.

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Roughly 40 people were turned away from the event because they did not qualify under Phase 1A, including some people in their 80′s.

“It’s really hard because there’s not enough to go around,” says Fiumara. “Ultimately, we want to give this to everybody who wants it.”

Last week, the Umatilla County Health Department told the state they were prepared to vaccinate as many as 2,000 people a week via drive-thru clinics. The state said they would make more doses available, and the county was ramping up to deliver them. But then came the news that the federal government was not going to deliver a promised vaccine shipment.

“Everybody’s frustrated,” says Fiumara. “Many of the public is frustrated with us, and we’re frustrated with the state, and state is frustrated with the feds. It just goes all the way up.”

Meanwhile, according to current state guidelines, the county is supposed to begin vaccinating educators on Jan. 25th.

“Our message right now,” says Fiumara, “is we don’t think we’re gonna have vaccine for them.”

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