January 15, 2021

Lindsey Prutch, a resident advocate for Transition Projects, at a vaccination clinic for shelter workers at the Oregon Convention Center on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021.
Lindsey Prutch walked away feeling calm after paramedic Erick Gillmore, sitting at a bare-bones station with a laptop, vials, gloves and other gear, had just administered her first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“It went well,” Prutch said as she made her way through a cavernous bay at the Oregon Convention Center to sit down and wait out a required 15-minute vigil to watch for any side effects. “It didn’t hurt at all.”

She wasn’t alone in marveling at how easy it all was. Prutch, a residential advocate based at Transition Projects’ downtown winter shelter, was one of hundreds of shelter workers and others who were invited to a vaccination clinic Friday led by Multnomah County Public Health.

The clinic — serving essential workers who aren’t directly employed by the County — is a first for Public Health as it works under state and federal guidance to prioritize a limited supply of vaccines. In Multnomah County, shelter workers and others whose duties take them into shelters, where they have significant contact with shelter participants, are considered eligible for the first phase of vaccine distributions.

Phase 1a, as determined by the state, focuses on vaccinating residents of long-term care facilities and critical workers — such as healthcare workers and congregate setting workers — who ensure that key services such as hospitals and congregate living sites, like shelters remain open, staffed and intact.

“It’s about being safe for the people around me as well as the participants” she works with in shelters, said Prutch. “I can continue helping them if I’m well-protected.”

Amanda Jara, a worker at the West Women and Children's Shelter, at a vaccination clinic for shelter workers at the Oregon Convention Center on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021.
Amanda Jara, who works at the West Women’s and Children’s Shelter, said she was excited to learn she was eligible. Spending time in a congregate shelter that requires people to share spaces even in a pandemic can bring a certain level of risk for everyone involved, from participants to workers. 

But as she lined up to check in for her shot, she felt some relief. “Definitely,” she said. “Just being able to protect our participants and my co-workers.”

Practice for larger operations

Friday’s vaccination clinic was also a chance for Multnomah County to practice the kind of large-scale public event that will need to be much more common this year if the community hopes to contain COVID-19 as quickly as possible. 

Multnomah County’s Emergency Operation Center, together with Public Health’s COVID-19 vaccination team, gathered workers and volunteers from several organizations, ranging from Portland Fire & Rescue to Portland’s Neighborhood Emergency Teams to American Medical Response.

The partners worked through a flow for how the day should go: screening shelter providers for symptoms, checking each individual into a shared data system, reviewing previously submitted health information and sending them along to a vaccination waiting area with a number in hand.

Things went so well, at times, that people didn’t even have time to sit down before their number was called.

Ximena Ospina-Todd of Latino Network at a vaccination clinic for shelter workers at the Oregon Convention Center on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021.
Ximena Ospina-Todd, director of Youth Gang Violence Prevention for Latino Network and a backup for the nonprofit’s homeless youth intervention program, was given number 35.

As she walked towards the waiting area, Bill Crane, a volunteer with the Trauma Intervention Program, called to her, “Are you number 35? Welcome!”

“Glad you made it,” he said, and ushered her past the chairs to vaccination Station 6.

Meah Kacirek with the County’s COVID-19 immunization program reviewed Ospina-Todd’s health information once more and prepared her CDC-issued COVID-19 immunization card. Jason Birch, a paramedic with Portland Fire & Rescue went over the process and discussed the common side effects of a vaccination — swelling, soreness or redness at the injection site — then reminded her of the 15-minute waiting period required after injection. 

Ospina-Todd asked if someone could snap her picture. She flashed her newly minted vaccine card and gave a thumbs up before finding a seat to wait out the observation period.

“We haven’t been closed during the pandemic,” she said. “Even though we haven’t had vaccines. So this will just make the work a little bit safer.” 

‘This was easy. It was quick’

Linus Sitton, a case manager at Transition Projects, sat some 100 feet away on a military cot, wearing Rainbow-framed glasses, an Army-style camouflage face covering and a t-shirt that reads, “Fight for those without your privilege.” 

He works one-on-one with clients to help them secure stable housing. He lives in a multigenerational household himself and, a couple times, he said, he felt ill and worried he might have the virus. 

A worker prepares vials of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Oregon Convention Center on Jan. 15, 2021.
He came into the Convention Center at 9:50 a.m., passed a symptom check, stopped by a desk to review his health screening, grabbed a number and walked right up to the vaccination team. By 10 a.m. he was sitting on a cot checking his phone, waiting for his 15-minute observation to complete.

“This was easy. It was quick. I came in, and I didn't really stop until I got to the shot.”

Sitton was one of many shelter providers waiting in the observation area, where Public Health Nurse Christina Spires offered granola bars and trail mix and where Public Health Nurse Portia Pasiaka stopped to ask individuals how they were feeling. “This workflow is pretty smooth,” she said.

Jazmine Bowles, who coordinates drive-through COVID-19 testing clinics across the County, said Friday’s vaccination event was good preparation for the larger community events to come.

It was also the first clinic to incorporate multiple agencies, and it gave organizers an opportunity to smooth out workflow, staffing needs and any technology glitches.

Jennifer Pirtle, a community health worker at Native Wellness Institute and NARA, at a vaccination clinic for shelter workers at the Oregon Convention Center on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021.
Within an hour of the clinic launch, a line of providers that had formed by the door had vanished. The clinic vaccinated 64 people in the first 50 minutes, and then welcomed a steady flow of providers who walked quickly through the process. By the end of Friday, the clinic was expected to serve as many as 400 people, with another day planned next week.

“As more and more vaccines become available, we — the health and medical community — will need to come together to do this,” said Alice Busch, deputy director of Multnomah County Emergency Management. “My goal today was to integrate first responders with public health nurses with community volunteers. We’re ironing out the protocols. At the end of the day we’ll all talk about solutions. This is quality improvement, happening right now.”

After she received her vaccine, Jennifer Pirtle, a community health worker with the Native Wellness Institute and the Native American Rehabilitation Association, held up her vaccination card and smiled. She said she looks forward to eventually returning to face-to-face work with her community, which faces disproportionate levels of homelessness and also fallout from COVID-19. 

At a time when so many community members might have doubts about the vaccine, she said, getting the shot and sharing her experience is important.

“I’m doing my part,” she said. “It’s about keeping my community safe.”