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Mass vaccination returns to Linn Co. fairgrounds with focus on booster shots

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The vast majority of coronavirus vaccines being administered at the Linn County Fair & Expo Center are booster shots, county health officials said.

So far, they estimate that about 500 to 600 doses have been given out since the clinics returned Tuesday, Jan. 4. The clinics run over the next two weeks, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, inside the Santiam Building.

We hear it every day experts telling Americans to get vaccinated and get that booster shot as well, but that's not as easy as it once was. According to the Walgreens website, vaccine appointments are booked out weeks in advance.So when Englewood, Colorado, mother Brooke Clanton found appointments for her two children's second doses, she didn't hesitate to book them."Our goal is to keep them in school this year as much as possible, so it just makes that more doable," Clanton said.  But that excitement quickly turned to disappointment when she received an email hours before they were going to get their shots.Walgreens had canceled her kids' appointments with no explanation. "I went into the store, because they weren't answering their phone to ask, and they told me that they were stopping vaccinations as of noon that day and were shutting down. They weren't going to be administering them moving forward."Clanton said she was told it was because of staffing shortages. In a statement, a spokesperson for Walgreens says, "We have adjusted pharmacy hours in a limited number of stores to accommodate current staffing needs, while also working to ensure minimal disruption to our customers. Our team members work with patients to reschedule any impacted vaccination appointments at these stores as quickly as possible."Desperate to get her kids fully vaccinated, Clanton got them their shots at a mobile vaccine clinic in Englewood giving her kids an extra layer of protection, she said and giving her peace of mind.

“It’s been steady,” Linn County Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Neva Anderson said. “It’s obviously not crowded, but it’s been good that people can just walk in without an appointment.”

This week marks the first time since June that mass vaccination clinics have been offered in Linn County. Officials have urged the use of boosters to help mute the effects of the surge in caseloads contributed by the omicron variant.

While mass clinics wound down last year, smaller vaccine clinics held in communities throughout Linn and Benton counties have persisted during the pandemic, including mobile vaccine efforts overseen by public health departments with help from local health care partners.

The use of third dose boosters — or second doses of Pfizer or Moderna for those who initially received a single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine — has been approved following studies cited by such national public health agencies as the Centers for Disease Control which show waning immunity over time for those who initially completed their vaccine series.

Some who received boosters on Thursday said that they were specifically concerned about decreased protection against the coronavirus from their initial vaccine series.

“I looked at the numbers of effectiveness and thought, ‘Let’s bring those up a bit,’” said Alex Goth, 22, who went in for third-dose Pfizer boosters with his fiancée Megan Jones, 21.

The Albany couple plans to be married in September and said they hope the pandemic isn’t still complicating large gatherings by that time.

“I want to be able to protect myself and my family,” Jones said. “I don’t want anyone to get COVID.”

Mass vaccination sites have been made possible because of the time and skills donated by many volunteers. Retired registered nurse Carol Gresham was manning one of the shot stations and utilizing her 30-plus years of experience to provide a bubbly atmosphere while she doled out shots.

She danced and bobbed to music being played over the speakers at the fairgrounds, and she’d blown up a disposable Latex glove like it was balloon animal that resembled an elephant.

“When I worked in the hospital, I’d fill these up with water and freeze them so that the little kids would have an elephant sitting on them whenever they needed an ice pack,” she said.

No pediatric vaccines are available at the Linn County clinic, though a pediatric clinic is planned for Monday, Jan. 10 at the Albany Fire Station 11 in downtown Albany. It will run from 3 to 7 p.m. and will only be for children ages 5 to 11. Benton County has several pediatric clinics planned at areas schools and recipients need not be residents of Benton County — or even Oregon.

Boosters are not yet approved for children under 12, and the Oregon Health Authority has yet to approve them for 12- to 15-year-olds, a step that the CDC took this week.

“Hopefully by early next week we’ll have that approval and can start doing those, too,” Anderson said.

While mass vaccination clinics have not returned to Benton County, there are a number of community vaccination events planned, particularly in rural areas. Folks can also still secure vaccines at their doctor’s office or at local pharmacies.

The simplest way to find the closest vaccines is to look online at the Oregon Health Authority website at www.getvaccinated.oregon.gov. You can also check with local public health departments either online or by calling in. The Benton County vaccine information hotline is 541-766-6120. Linn County’s website encourages people to email questions to lccovidvaccine@co.linn.or.us.

According to the latest figures from the OHA, 54.2% of the population has been fully vaccinated in Linn County. Benton County has vaccinated over 70% of its total population. A little more than 21% of those in Linn County have received a booster dose, compared to 35% in Benton.

Data from OHA can lag behind updated counts by a week or more.

Officials said that, while vaccinations remain effective at preventing serious illness caused by the disease, it’s also especially important to adhere to proper social distancing guidelines to flatten the curve of omicron cases.

“We still encourage folks to still wear masks and be safe as we embark upon this variant,” Anderson said.

Troy Shinn covers healthcare, natural resources and Linn County government. He can be reached at 541-812-6114 or troy.shinn@lee.net. He can be found on Twitter at @troydshinn. 

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