ONTARIO, Oregon — Malheur County Health Department is holding a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Four Rivers Cultural Center in Ontario Thursday and will be giving out a $20 gift card to the first 250 people who get the vaccine.
Officials said current vaccination rates in the county are falling short compared to other counties in Oregon so they hope adding a bonus will encourage people to get their shot.
“We also have the approval to use some of our COVID funding for incentives. We thought it was a way to support local businesses, and hopefully, get some people that have been a little more hesitant,” said Sarah Poe, Director for the Malheur County Health Department
Poe said the county currently ranks 35 out of 36 counties in the state.
Only about one-third of its 16 and up population is vaccinated.
“The statewide goal is that each county will reach 65%. Many counties in Oregon have done that and we haven’t. I’m actually really concerned because we haven’t even reached 60 percent for our 80+ population. We know that the risk of hospitalizations and death is so high if you’re elderly so it’s really important that they are protected with this vaccine that will save their life,” Poe said.
Since the COVID-19 vaccine rollout began, the Four Rivers Cultural Center has hosted a clinic every Thursday as part of a larger effort to ensure equitable access.
This Thursday’s clinic will be the center's last. The site's executive director said they were glad to lend a helping hand.
“I think we’re just proud to be working on something so critical and important to address in any community,” Matthew Stringer said.
Stringer said the center’s staff and volunteers have been able to help during the vaccination clinics.
The center has been part of other efforts, including distributing thousands of masks during the height of the pandemic.
“We had delivered groceries to 86 COVID patients, booked 47 hotel rooms for two weeks stay for quarantined people, we distributed to 150 Thanksgiving meals to needy people and COVID-impacted people, 150 boxes of groceries,” Stringer said.
On May 21, the state launched the $1 million “Take your Shot Oregon” Vaccination Campaign. In a press release, officials said all Oregonians who have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and are over the age of 12 could be eligible for cash prizes or scholarships. The campaign is a collaboration between the Oregon Health Authority, Oregon Lottery, and the Oregon State Treasury.
“We are excited that Treasury’s College Savings Plan can help with the effort to increase vaccination rates in Oregon,” said State Treasurer Tobias Read. “This is a win-win: get vaccinated now to protect yourself and others, and get the chance to fund your future through a scholarship that can be used for higher education and job training.”
The drawings will take place on June 28.
Ohio was the first state to offer a vaccine lottery and Maryland and New York have followed suit.
Idaho still has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. On Tuesday, officials with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare said they’re not ruling out the idea of incentives.
“I will say at the state level we are looking at everything we can to incentivize people, encourage people to get the vaccine if they want it. I would say nothing is off the table and we are looking at what we can do at this time," said Elke Shaw-Tulloch, Administrator of Public Health IDHW.
The vaccine clinic at the center will be held from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. It's only open to people over the age of 18. No appointment is necessary. Health staff will be administering the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine and Moderna vaccine.