SALEM, Ore. – Oregon National Guard Soldiers and Airmen have vaccinated more than 100,000 people in the nearly two months since they were activated by Gov. Kate Brown to help the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) distribute the COVID-19 vaccine.
With the initial call-up of more than 40 Oregon Guardsmen Jan. 8, additional service members have been mobilized around the state to support the expanding demand for the vaccine. With the opening of the primary vaccination site at the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem Jan. 12, six designated mass vaccination sites are now operating throughout the Beaver State – the largest at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.
As the numbers of military medical workers increase, additional Guardsmen were trained to assist at a call center and connect people with health and social service organizations. The service members provide information about testing, vaccinations, appointments and other resources.
These Oregon Guard members make-up part of the overall national force of nearly 30,000 National Guard members activated to support COVID-19 response efforts across the country.
Over 662,000 Oregonians have been vaccinated with the first of two rounds of approved Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines. About 15.7% of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of the vaccine and about 7.9% have received both doses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Oregon statistics mirror these national averages.
In addition to the Guard vaccinating 100,000 Oregonians, Joint Task Force Guardian has 226 service members assigned to four sites around the state supporting COVID-19 operations.
“It clearly makes sense to have the National Guard help with vaccinations and other support for pandemic needs,” said Col. John Maddox, Oregon Army National Guard state surgeon and JTF commander. “This unburdens health care workers, freeing them up in many communities and allowing them to focus on the care of the sick.”
The six mass vaccination sites have been placed at key areas around the state and are moving resources from one site to another based on the vaccine supply.
“Depending on the site, our members are administering 60-70% of the vaccines,” said Maddox. “Not every site is open every day. We have some that are open for a week and then will be closed for a week while more vaccine supplies are provided to the state.”
The support of the Oregon National Guard has emphasized the theme of neighbors helping neighbors. Army Staff Sgt. Nathan Palin vaccinated one of his middle school teachers at a drive-thru clinic. “I haven’t seen him in 20 years, so it was kind of cool, but one of those unexpected coincidences we encounter in our communities.”
Guard members helped administer 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine at the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation Feb. 23-24. They will return to administer the second dose later this month.
“Our Soldiers and Airmen demonstrate our motto again and again of, ‘Always Ready, Always There,’” said Chief Master Sgt. Dan Conner, Oregon National Guard chief senior enlisted leader.
“We have been active in setting up field hospitals, delivering PPE (personal protective equipment), working with our tribal communities, and even assisting in employment insurance claims,” Conner said. “The citizens of Oregon can rest assured that when the Oregon National Guard is called up, we’ll pitch in wherever we’re needed to get the job done.”