Community volunteers are making a big difference in Ontario's COVID-19 response

Posted at 10:43 AM, Mar 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-26 12:43:53-04

ONTARIO, Oregon — Every Thursday until the end of April the Malheur County Health Department will host a vaccination clinic at the Four Rivers Cultural Center in Ontario.

In the morning from 8:00 to 11:00 people can get their second shot and in the afternoon from 1:00-3:00 eligible citizens can receive their first shot.

This week Oregon opened up the vaccine to agricultural workers, food processing employees, pregnant women, wildland firefighters, homeless people, and all adults ages 45-64 with an underlying health condition.

Community leaders and volunteers have made a big difference in Ontario's COVID-19 response, volunteers helped administer testing during the pandemic and now they show up every Thursday to help with vaccinations.

"These clinics average 45 volunteers to run and we routinely fill those slots," said Erika Harmon of the Malheur County Health Department. "It has been amazing, the participation we have received and we couldn’t do it without the help of all these volunteers.”

Volunteers include city council members, planning and zoning commissioners, and even the sheriff of Malheur County.

"That’s kind of the way we live in Malheur County," said Sheriff Brian Wolfe. "When we can help we all come together to help out when we can, especially when we feel it’s for the betterment of the community."

But one volunteer has gone above and beyond, Bob Dickenson is the director of the Malheur County Ambulance District.

"A couple of weeks ago I reached one thousand vaccines and I’m up to about 1,175 now," said Dickenson. "I’m just really pleased to be able to help people and do that, I’ve been a paramedic for 30 years and had no idea at the time that what I was training for would lead to something so important."

Oregon hit a milestone this week as one million citizens have received at least one dose of the vaccine, in Malheur County they have done more than a thousand and that means that Dickenson has done about a tenth of the vaccines himself, and in doing so he has seen many tears of joy.

"To see that and the response we get with giving the vaccinations, how happy people are and the joy it brings them to be able to travel and see loved ones, I couldn’t think of doing anything else," said Dickenson. "I still do my job, but absolutely every Thursday or any other day I’m down here.”

Vaccinations are given out on a first-come-first-serve basis, they are free, but if people have health insurance they are asked to bring documentation to help cover administration fees.

People also have other opportunities to get vaccinated in Malheur County, Saint Alphonsus has opened up a clinic by appointment on Mondays and other health care providers are available.

"People can call their health provider and find out about making an appointment, they can schedule a drive-up clinic appointment so there are a lot of different ways to become vaccinated," said Harmon.