May 16 2021
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Previous story Hoping to improve vaccine equity, Oregon allows some Salem-area health centers to vaccinate all patients Next story

Story by Rachel Alexander – Salem Reporter - Story Source
Published on Wednesday March 10, 2021 - 1:05 AM

Oregon Latinos make up one-quarter of the state's Covid cases, but just 4% of that population has been vaccinated to date. Marion County has fared better, launching a significant outreach campaign in Spanish and directing vaccine doses to the north county. Community groups say access still remains challenging. Now, Salud Medical Center and Lancaster Family Health Center have a green light to vaccinate all their patients starting this week.

It was just before 4 p.m. on a recent afternoon and the parking lot at the Lancaster Family Health Center was nearly full.

Inside, Florinda Velasquez, 74, was among dozens of people cycling through the clinic's daily vaccination drive, staffed by bilingual nurses and medical assistants.

"With the first one, I didn't feel anything. With this one, who knows?" Velasquez said, speaking in Spanish.

The health center in southeast Salem is one of two in Marion County run by the Washington-based Yakima Valley Farmworkers Clinic, which operates community health centers in areas with little access to medical care, with a particular focus on migrant and seasonal farm workers.

Clinics like this are a key part of Oregon's plan to make vaccination more accessible to communities hit hardest by Covid.

Latinos account for 26% of all cases in Oregon despite making up just 14% of the state's population. Farm, agricultural, manufacturing and food processing workers and their family members have been particularly impacted, and workers in those sectors are disproportionately Latino. Yet in most cases, they're still not eligible for a vaccine.

Despite a statewide goal to center equity in the vaccine rollout process, just 4% of the 740,000 Oregonians who have gotten a shot to date are Latino, according to Oregon Health Authority data. Marion County has fared better, with about 10% of vaccines going to Latinos, who make up 27% of the county's population. That's about 5,900 Latinos out of 59,500 Marion County residents who have gotten at least one shot.

Starting this week, the Oregon Health Authority is allowing seven health centers around Oregon to begin vaccinating any of their patients 16 and older as part of a pilot program. The centers receive federal funding for providing medical care in underserved areas and take patients regardless of insurance or ability to pay.

Those participating include the Lancaster clinic and Salud Medical Center in Woodburn, both of which serve predominantly Latino patients. Together, the two have been vaccinating about 1,600 people weekly said Amanda Hill, who directs the Lancaster clinic.

The change is intended to better target vaccines toward people disproportionately impacted by Covid, OHA spokesman Rudy Owens said in an email. Clinics are still encouraged to prioritize according to the state's schedule.