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'We got the word out': Multnomah County holds COVID-19 vaccine clinic for BIPOC community

Nearly 400 people in the BIPOC community who qualified for the vaccine were treated at a special clinic last Friday.

PORTLAND, Oregon — Smaller vaccination sites are popping up in Multnomah County, with the goal of reaching underserved communities hit hard by the pandemic.

Last Friday, Multnomah County, in partnership with its REACH Program, held a vaccination clinic at Highland Christian Center in Northeast Portland. Their goal was to vaccinate seniors who are Black, Indigenous and people of color. At Friday’s event, nearly 400 people, including a handful of white people, signed up and were vaccinated. Highland Bishop, Stewart Minnieweather and his wife were among them.

“We want to live a healthy life and we want to be an example for our community,” said Minnieweather. “So, we got rid of our fear and we came."

Organizers spread word of the clinic through community partners who reached out to potential participants.

“Friday was just so, so amazing,” said Charlene McGee, program manager for REACH, which stands for Racial and Ethic Approaches to Community Health. “We did outreach, we engaged … we got the word out to help sign up elders.”

McGee said events like the one on Friday are critical for several reasons, including what statistics show. Compared to white people, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention found Black and Hispanic people are each around three times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19, and twice as likely to die from it.

“The reality remains that when we look at the data, and because of the limited resources and availability of vaccines, we have to prioritize who we're vaccinating,” said McGee.

The Oregon Health Authority collected its own data through a report on the inequitable impact of COVID-19 based on race, ethnicity, language and disability. Among other findings, the report showed that patients seen for COVID-19 cases and related health care encounters preferred more than 100 non-English languages, suggesting potential language barriers.

“I just can't imagine living in a world where I'm talking to you and you have no idea what I'm saying, but I know I want this vaccine,” said Jazmine Bowls, Multnomah County’s nursing supervisor for COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites. “For me, that's all the more reason that we have to show up.”

Bowls said Friday’s event drew the most diverse group to a vaccination clinic, yet.

“For me it was almost emotional because I love to see that,” said Bowls. “I want to see that people who don't have access to these services are gaining access to these services.”

The county's focus now is getting participants their second vaccine dose. They hope to plan similar events geared toward the BIPOC community and will alert community partners to get the word out. Those interested in participating can also learn more by calling 211.