Immunity for the community

– Multi-day vaccination event at WRC attracts hundreds seeking COVID-19 protection

By Cary Rosenbaum of the CUJ

MISSION – A three day vaccination event Feb. 23, 24 and 26 inoculated 978 community members, locals and immediate relatives of Tribal employees with the COVID-19 vaccine.

The event was coordinated by Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center, with assistance from Wildhorse Resort & Casino and the Oregon National Guard.

Protection for the greater CTUIR community was the reason for such an event, one that saw 932 go in through the WRC security entrance and eventually out Quaking Aspens Lanes in a two-day span.

National Guard PFC Joshua White loads a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine dose during the mass vaccination event held at Wildhorse Resort & Casino

“By the time we finish the second doses of the COVID-19 vaccination in mid March, we will be near herd immunity for the CTUIR,” COVID-19 Incident Commander Chuck Sams said. “By early April we will be able to return to some level of normalcy. Though we must stay vigilant and guarded against any future variants and strains of this virus.”

Tribal members were among the vaccinated, the assisting Yellowhawk and Wildhorse staff, and even the National Guard.

CTUIR and National Guard member Sean Soaring Eagle, who entered data alongside a nurse in one of the 12 red-curtain stations the vaccines were given in, said it felt good helping people with their vaccines.

The coordination was inspiring, said Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center CEO Lisa Guzman.

“I just really enjoy the positive energy of everybody involved,” she said. “Everybody was working toward one goal to get people vaccinated. It was a good feeling to see everybody work together.”

CTUIR member Sean Soaring Eagle was part of the Oregon National Guard assisting the effort.

When the next round of vaccinations takes place from March 16-17, there may be slight changes, she said.

“What we identified is that we could potentially move people through quicker,” Guzman said. “And so we’re looking at our workstations and we’re looking at how many we can give per hour. So we might increase from 60 per hour to 90. But that’s something we’re still going to be talking about with our mass vaccination team.”

Yellowhawk is also inquiring with the National Guard to request the same members next time.

“We requested their services again,” she said. “We let them know it would be nice to have the same individuals provide us support, because we trained them.”

Areas of training included patient registration support, vaccination reporting, work station flow, accident reporting, needle-sticks protocol, after care support and how to provide educational awareness to the patient about the vaccine, Guzman said.

At the culmination of February, more than 2,100 vaccinations have been provided by Yellowhawk.

“We are moving forward in a good way,” Sams said. “Let us continue to do so.”

The event came in the midst of a change in Umatilla County from extreme to high risk, announced by Gov. Kate Brown.

“For the second time in a row, we are seeing great progress in stopping the spread of COVID-19 across Oregon and saving lives,” she said. “Oregonians continue to step up and make smart choices. While these county movements are welcome news, we must continue to take seriously health and safety measures, especially as more businesses reopen and we start to get out more. As we see infection rates going down and vaccinations ramping up, now is not the time to let down our guard. Continue to wear your masks, keep physical distance, and avoid indoor gatherings.”

On Feb. 25, Brown extended Oregon’s declaration of a state of emergency until May 2. More than 150,000 total cases have been reported in Oregon as of the end of March.

But there is encouraging news. The Oregon Health Authority reported a 35 percent decrease in active cases and 42 percent decrease in hospitalizations.

Yellowhawk’s mass vaccination may have an even bigger impact for Umatilla County in the long run.

“I think it was a really good step,” Guzman said. “We really promoted access to the vaccination, not only to tribal membership and other federally recognized tribes, but for non-tribal members that live within the CTUIR.”

Non-tribal residents and CTUIR employees and family members made up 840 of the 978 vaccinated. Sixty CTUIR members were vaccinated, and 78 members of other Tribes received a dose.

Sams thanked those who have been taking precautions within the Tribal government’s umbrella via email.

“You all have greatly contributed to making this Reservation as safe as possible,” Sams said. “We must continue to ensure our community’s safety and your safety.”