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Multnomah County Isn’t Sending Vaccine Clinics to Schools

The opportunity is slipping away for health officials to reach teenagers who aren’t actively seeking a COVID-19 vaccination.

One of the most diverse school districts in Oregon asked Multnomah County this month for a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at its high school—and was rejected.

David Douglas School District, which covers much of East Portland, sent 95 students via school bus to the vaccination clinic at the Oregon Convention Center on Friday, May 7, a week before vaccinations became available to kids between the ages of 12 and 15. (Portland Public Schools has also sent buses from its high schools.) But county officials turned down the request for a clinic at David Douglas High School.

The opportunity is slipping away for health officials to reach teenagers who aren’t actively seeking a COVID-19 vaccination. Summer break starts in less than four weeks. And vaccination rates among young people remain the lowest of any age bracket. While 65% of Multnomah County residents eligible for the vaccine have received a dose, only 44% of 16- to 19-year-olds have gotten one.

Students who attend David Douglas often come from communities of color that health officials struggle to reach with vaccines. Its students speak dozens of different languages, and more than 1 in 5 students in the David Douglas School District are still officially learning English.

As Oregon has seen a drop in the number of doses being administered, health officials have tried to smooth the path to finding a shot. Appointments are no longer required at the Convention Center, county clinics and some pharmacies. Another way Oregon could ease access? Send the vaccines to schools with pop-up clinics.

WHO HAS IT?

Beaverton School District has two vaccine clinics this week.

Aloha High School has a clinic on Friday, thanks to Providence hospitals. Anyone 16 or older can get a dose; younger kids can come with a parent or with parental consent.

“We were initially contacted by a staff member at Aloha and made aware of the need,” says Providence spokesman Gary Walker. “Only about 20 students had taken a bus ride provided to the Convention Center mass vaccination site, so we realized we had to look for a different approach.”

Walker said the hospital system has held other school clinics, including five in Yamhill County. Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center is holding a clinic at Elmonica Elementary for parents—and any other adult who stops by.

WHO WANTS IT?

Most notably, David Douglas School District: “We have advocated for hosting a vaccination clinic at David Douglas High School, but it sounds like it’s going to remain at the OCC and in neighborhood stores for now (Walgreens, Safeway, etc.),” says district spokesman Dan McCue.

The Portland Association of Teachers has been calling for vaccinations at school for nearly a month, asking for clinics at Roosevelt and McDaniel high schools, among others.

Two doctors who are also elected officials, state Rep. Lisa Reynolds (D-Portland) and Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran, have voiced support for the idea.

“I think it’s all about meeting people where they are physically and emotionally,” says Reynolds. “School is a trusted resource.”

WHO DOESN’T WANT IT?

Multnomah County public health did not have the resources to provide vaccinations at David Douglas schools, but asked the district to work with hospitals, who are providing vaccines at OCC, says county spokeswoman Kate Yeiser. County health has been running vaccination clinics at accessible sites with a BIPOC and immigrant focus, including for youth.

“Schools are very much part of the conversation,” Yeiser says. “But to focus only on the ‘where’ reduces a complex issue; we have a much bigger job to do than deliver vaccines to one site or another. People need to get their questions answered and have a sense of trust in the process.”

Portland Public Schools has already sent 325 students via bus to the Oregon Convention Center and has another 185 signed up for this Wednesday. The state’s largest district appears willing to make do with the Convention Center as its destination until health officials offer pop-up clinics. OCC has vaccinated 848 16- and 17-year-olds on “teen” vaccination days, officials say.

“We have been in discussions with local and state health authorities about this,” says PPS spokeswoman Karen Werstein. “Of course, we are not a health agency, but we will be ready to support as soon as our health authority partners are.”