Oregon’s COVID-19 vaccination rate has plummeted in recent weeks.

Health experts say they still think there’s a group of people out there that hasn’t made up their mind yet about the shot, but is working through fears and concerns.

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A kitchen manager with a profound fear of needles who found the courage to get the shot tells us about the experience, and we meet the stranger who helped her through that fear.

Kelsey Peterson: My name is Kelsey Peterson. I’ve been unemployed for the last year but most recently I worked at the Waffle Window. Which was quite a fun time.

CVS pharmacist Jordan Tran prepares a shot as he helps give Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020.

CVS pharmacist Jordan Tran prepares a shot as he helps give Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Uh, I really hate needles. Like many people. Just the idea of appointments and shots for me, I like skip anything I can, basically. This was one I knew I had to do, and I wasn’t sure how.

For me personally, I am in fairly good health. I’m able to isolate easily but I do want to get back out and I want to be safe for myself but also for others.

A huge concern for me is to not have to worry that I’m putting anyone else at risk.

Amanda Blum: I’m Amanda Blum. I’m 45. I live in Portland, Oregon. And I am what a lot of people call a vaccine fairy or a vaccine volunteer. I’m not associated with a group or anything, I’m just a person who would like to help other people get vaccinated.

People who are interested in helping others get vaccinated are often referred to as “vaccine fairies” on the social site, Reddit. Amanda Blum of Portland says she has helped about 200 people get vaccination appointments after they contacted her for support via her Reddit post.

People who are interested in helping others get vaccinated are often referred to as “vaccine fairies” on the social site, Reddit. Amanda Blum of Portland says she has helped about 200 people get vaccination appointments after they contacted her for support via her Reddit post.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

I have probably gotten 200 people appointments from Reddit. In this case, I was targeting a group saying, hey, if you have any sort of anxiety, if you need special conditions or accommodations around getting vaccinated, let me know and I’ll figure it out for you and Kelsey was one of the people that responded.

Peterson: I worked up the courage to write her an email. I said, hi, I’m really anxious, can you help me make an appointment? I’m having a hard time getting it done.

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She was super helpful, got a little information from me. Made the appointment. Actually offered to drive me, go with me. I don’t have a car.

It can be kind of embarrassing, if you’re so anxious about something to go with someone you know. So to me, a trustworthy stranger was the perfect situation. And then meeting her was great. She picked me up, right outside my apartment to take me to my appointment. She’s super fun.

She was playing music, and we laughed and joked. Which was a huge relief for me. Because it went from a really scary situation — that I thought I would have to ride the bus and do alone — to being with someone, laughing about it. It was a really special connection to find.

Blum: I suspect most people would be surprised to realize that there are people in their sphere who are not vaccinated and who are petrified to tell people. And by just asking in a very specific way, you can find those people and help them.

Peterson: For the actual shot, not being around other people, having the privacy of being in the car was really nice. And it was quick, so quick. Immediately after I got the shot, another nurse came to check that we were in line, and I said I just got it, and “Congrats, yay” and I was so emotional, and it was really surprising to me, because that was again the opposite reaction of how I thought it was going to go. I thought I was going to be panicked and stressed.

Staff working the drive-thru mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Portland International Airport, April 9, 2021, monitor people during their post-vaccine waiting period.

Staff working the drive-thru mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Portland International Airport, April 9, 2021, monitor people during their post-vaccine waiting period.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff/ OPB

Because I was able to find the people to make me comfortable, it was a really proud and happy moment.

Also to just be vaccinated is a huge relief also. ... I’m getting closer to the new normal that we’re pursuing.

Blum: I ask literally every single human being I come into contact with, whether they are walking in front of my house, whether I am checking out at the grocery store. The construction crew next door. I got my mailman vaccinated.

I always start with this very simple premise: Is everyone here who wants to be vaccinated, vaccinated? I think by asking it in that way, it makes it clear, I’m not demanding anything of you. I’m just opening a door. It’s your choice.

Sometimes people answer in a way that makes it clear it’s not their choice, but they’re open to conversation about it.

A person wearing gloves gives a shot in the upper arm of a person wearing a mask.

Dr. Jane Birschbach, MD, right, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Barrett Flesh at the Deschutes County Public Health Department in Bend, Ore., Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

Peterson: Conversations are hard. Especially when you’ve been isolated for so long. Just a basic conversation can be overwhelming. So talking about a vaccine that can be controversial, it can be scary to bring up even with close friends. But also, inspiring to kind of be that for other people.

Like, I have a fear of needles but maybe there’s another way I can inspire people to get vaccinated. The importance of having those conversations is huge because it’s easy to avoid talking about scary things. And this is one we really shouldn’t avoid, I think.

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