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Relief organization holds clinics focused on vaccinating Portland's BIPOC communities

Medical Teams International and community partners are reaching out to people who may have a tougher time accessing the COVID-19 vaccine.

PORTLAND, Ore. — At Mt. Olivet Baptist Church in North Portland, there was cause for celebration this week as the church hosted the first of three COVID-19 vaccine clinics.

“If you could see what I can see inside with our members going through [the clinic] just so excited, it would absolutely fill your heart with joy,” said Pastor Wendell Robinson.

Robinson and his staff at Mt. Olivet were thrilled to learn they'd be hosting the vaccine clinics through Medical Teams International (MIT). The humanitarian relief agency is partnering with the Oregon Health Authority, Providence and Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon. Together, they're focused on getting vaccine to people in BIPOC communities, the uninsured, unhoused and those facing mobility challenges.

“We've been thinking and talking a lot about vaccine equity,” said Medical Teams International president and CEO, Martha Newsome.

Newsome said their goal is to vaccinate 120 people at every event they host, be it at a church site or in the field with MTI’s fleet of mobile clinics. Appointments are pre-scheduled thanks to community outreach partners.

“We're not safe until we're all safe,” said Newsome. “To know that we can get to vulnerable communities that might not get vaccinated. It's just very, very gratifying for me and our whole team.”

In settings like Mt. Olivet, there's also an opportunity to build trust where there might be doubt about the vaccine.

“Personally, I don't love getting shots, but it was actually okay!” said Robinson, who was one of the first in line to get vaccinated. “I always say you can't teach what you don't know, and you can't lead where you're first not willing to go. So I wanted to be one of the first to go as an example.”

Right now, all vaccine clinics face a measure of uncertainty in the wake of the Johnson & Johnson's mishap. This week, Oregon received 61,200 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Next week, that number will drop to 7,100 doses. Medical Teams International is slated to receive 400 of those doses.

“We're not even quite sure where we'll be, even next week in Oregon," said Newsome. "It's changing on almost a day-by-day basis.”

What those at Mt. Olivet do know is there's a whole lot more hope now among their congregation.

“And there's just no words,” said Robinson, “but ‘thank you.’”

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