County’s ‘well-oiled’ COVID vaccination clinic innoculates thousands per day

By Scott Swanson
Lebanon Local

The parking lot at the Linn County Fair and Expo Center in Albany is nearly full of vehicles in mid-afternoon on a day midway through the week.
It’s a coronavirus vaccination day and the county’s Mass Vaccination Clinic is in full operation.
It’s a tightly controlled scenario, with county Search and Rescue teens in uniform manning a checkpoint in the only driveway allowing entry to the grounds.
A stream of mostly white-haired individuals walk to the exhibit hall, where volunteers at tables await them. Inside, more volunteers check paperwork, direct visitors and administer injections of coronavirus vaccine.
Welcome to COVID Central, the focus of Linn County’s efforts to combat the virus. It’s a busy place, but it’s clearly a model of quiet efficiency.
“We’ve been doing about 2,000 vaccinations a day,” said Todd Noble, who heads the Linn County Health Department. “We could probably do 4- to 5,000 a day. It’s a great flow.”
Vaccinations started in Linn County on Jan. 6 – the first in the region, he noted, as county health staffers visited first responders to get them immunized to the disease. The centralized vaccination clinic at the Fairgrounds started Jan. 14.
The clinic runs three to four days a week, providing 4,000 to 5,000 shots per week.
The reason why the clinic’s schedule is a bit irregular is because that’s been the case with deliveries of vaccine, Noble said.
“I can’t tell you how many days we’re doing next week yet,” he said. “Our allotments have been sporadic.”
As of March 10, Linn County has had 3,543 reported COVID cases, with 57 deaths, a case count that ranks 14th among Oregon’s 36 counties.

A resident receives his vaccination.
Photo by Scott Swanson

Noble said the goal is to get approximately three-quarters of the county’s residents inoculated against the coronavirus.
“There needs to be a real community blanket, because we’re not going to get to protection until we get 70% of the population vaccinated,” he said. “It’s really important. And finally, it looks like enough (vaccine doses) will be coming in in the next couple of weeks so we can really up the game as a community.”
When the vaccines are available, the clinic is a model of efficiency.
Typically, Noble said, wait times for the public are no more than six minutes, though there have been exceptions.
On a recent morning, he noted, “it was definitely longer because people came an hour early and when that happens, then it creates a line.”
He emphasized that recipients do not need to arrive earlier than they are scheduled.
“Please do not come more than five minutes before your appointment because if (recipients trust the schedule), then we have a great flow and it’s not a problem.
“That’s really important. People are worried, ‘Well, what if I miss my time?’ Nobody gets turned away if they have a scheduled appointment.”
Also, he noted, if someone who is qualified hasn’t gotten their vaccination when first eligible, their window of opportunity isn’t gone.
“Anybody that’s been eligible, it’s not like, oh gosh, I’m a first responder and now I can’t do it.”
He said initial reluctance seems to be dissipating as people realize “that we’re not having a bunch of adverse effects, that people are doing well.”
The process of getting a vaccination is a well-ordered procedure from the moment recipients reach the parking lot until they exit.
After recipients get checked in, they get their shots and then are ushered to a waiting area where they are closely monitored for reactions – for 15 or 30 minutes, depending on whether they’ve reported having previous reactions to shots or vaccinations.
Everyone in the building wears masks and stations and waiting area seats are sanitized after use.
Noble credited Neva Anderson, the county’s emergency preparedness coordinator, for the efficiency of the operation.
“She is the organizing genius,” he said.
Anderson told a visitor that earlier in the day the clinic administered some 1,800 vaccines in less than five hours “so it comes out to be about six vaccinations a minute.”
A normal day’s output is up to 2,500 vaccinations, she said.
Unlike other mass vaccination clinics in the state, Linn County’s is almost exclusively dependent on county staff and volunteers from the medical reserve corps, Noble said, emphasizing that volunteers are always needed.
“We are about 95 percent volunteers. These are all volunteers,” he added, gesturing at long tables where vaccine recipients were getting checked in.
“We get students from Linn-Benton, we get students from (COMP-Northwest) Medical School and Oregon Health Sciences University.”
There are also active and retired doctors, dentists and nurses and pharmacists staffing checkpoints and administering vaccinations.
“We have surgeons, we have, I mean, all kinds of folks,” Noble said. “Everybody’s looking for volunteers now, right, and so I feel like we’re on a sort of a marketing campaign to, to get people in to be a part of this solution.”
An average of 50 to 65 volunteers support the mass vaccinations at the Expo center. Anderson said they have “over 800 on the books.”
Volunteers must be over 18 and pass a background check. Both medical and non-medical volunteers are needed. Medical volunteers can also include EMT/paramedics, physician’s assistants, dental hygienists, and others who have been certified to work with patients and administer shots.
Non-medical volunteers include greeters, flaggers, runners and others who facilitate the operation.
“We have people that are vaccinating, who are a certain subset, but then we have other people doing the checks and the doorway, so those non-medical volunteers we need as well.”
A big need, Anderson said, is those qualified to administer the vaccinations.
Anyone interested in signing up can do so online by visiting serv-or.org/.
Not only is Linn County somewhat unique in the size of its volunteer effort, it was the first county in the region to start administering vaccinations, Noble said.
Also, other neighboring counties have handed over administration of the vaccines to organizations like Samaritan Health or Salem Health, he said.
Another unique feature of the county’s program is that it offers vaccines for free at the Fairgrounds, which isn’t the case in other communities, he said.
He said vaccines, if not already, will soon be available through pharmacies like Walmart, Bi-Mart and others, such as primary care providers, and but they will likely require payment.
“We do know that it’s much easier for some people to go to the pharmacy,” Noble said. “They’ve been great partners in the past.”
Anderson said the county also uses a van to connect with those unable to travel.
The van operates “two or three days a week to reach people who are home-bound or have disabilities which prohibit them from traveling,” she said.
“We take volunteers out to go do that and then take vaccine with us and do house calls.”
She said the county plans to visit some outlying communities in April as well to inoculate residents.
The county has gotten help from Samaritan in providing a COVID information call center, accessible by calling (541) 967-3888.
The goal is to connect with residents, Noble said.
“Right now it’s a really nicely oiled machine we have because Samaritan’s partnering and doing the wait list.
“We are pretty easily to tap into people and to get them in. It was difficult for some seniors who didn’t have access to the internet, so we switched to the call center a few weeks ago, just to make it more user-friendly.”

COVID Information

Need local information on COVID vaccines and more?
♦ Check Linn County Public Health’s Facebook page for up-to-date information and recommendations
♦ Visit Oregon Health Authority’s COVID-19 page, at govstatus.egov.com/OR-OHA-COVID-19, and sign up to get regular updates
♦ Call the Linn County Public Health COVID-19 Call Center at (541) 967-3888. The call center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week.