As It Happens

Oregon health workers give out COVID vaccines on the highway in a snowstorm

A group of Oregon health-care workers found themselves trapped on a highway in a snowstorm this week with six doses of a COVID-19 vaccine on the verge of expiring. So they went vehicle-to-vehicle offering up jabs.

Stuck in traffic with vaccines about to expire, the workers went car-to-car offering doses

This team from Josephine County Public Health in Oregon ran an impromptu COVID-19 vaccine clinic on the highway Tuesday. From left to right: Dr. David Candelaria; Leah Swanson, public health emergency preparedness co-ordinator; Justin Fimbres, environmental health specialist; Anthony Perry, public health program manager, and Michael Weber, public health director. ( Josephine County Public Health)

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A group of Oregon health-care workers found themselves trapped on a highway in a snowstorm this week with six doses of a COVID-19 vaccine on the verge of expiring.

The vaccines had already been drawn into syringes and the team from Josephine County Public Health knew they had to administer them soon, or else throw them away. 

"You have to understand here in Josephine County, we've really struggled to get vaccines to give to our community. For us, every dose is precious. Every single dose is critical. So we just kind of pushed through," Mike Weber, the county's public health director, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"So we just started zipping up our jackets and walking door-to-door, vehicle-to-vehicle, asking if anyone was interested."

Staff from Josephine County Public Health administer COVID-19 vaccine to a person stuck on the highway in a snow storm near Cave Junction, Ore., on Tuesday. ( Josephine County Public Health)

Oregon is currently rolling out vaccines to targeted populations, including front-line health-care workers, first responders, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, teachers and child-care workers.

The team had just been operating a vaccine clinic in Cave Junction, Ore., when the snow started coming down hard. 

They administered as many doses as they could, then packed up and hit the road in the hope of making it on time to their next clinic in nearby Grants Pass. 

"We held off as long as we could at our vaccine clinic to try and get out as many as possible," Weber said. "Apparently we waited a little bit too long, because we made it up to the top of the mountain, and as we were going over the pass, traffic came to a standstill."

They learned it would likely be hours before they could move again. 

"We had six syringes filled with vaccines that had a time limit. The clock was ticking," Weber said.

'Pretty much an obvious solution' 

Fortunately, he says they had everything they needed on hand — a doctor to determine whether it was safe to administer the vaccine, nurses who could dose people, the necessary paperwork and an ambulance in case of emergency.

"It was pretty much an obvious solution for us," he said.

Weber says they have contact information for all their impromptu recipients, so they can all receive their second dose when it's time. 

Traffic backed up Tuesday on the highway between Cave Junction and Grants Pass, Ore. (Submitted by Christi Siedlecki)

Reaction, Weber says, was mixed. They hit up 40 vehicles and found just six people willing to take a roadside jab.

Weber says vaccine hesitancy is high in the region, but he doesn't blame anyone suspicious of the group's unorthodox approach that day.

"I have to acknowledge that it is an unusual situation to find yourself in. I know the last time I was stuck in a snowstorm, I don't think I ever envisioned somebody would have walked up and asked if I wanted a shot in the arm. So people having a little bit of trepidation about it, I get it," he said.

"But the folks that did get it, for the most part, they really were thrilled."

In one of the vehicles was a teacher who'd already been vaccinated. 

"But the gentleman she was with did not. And he asked me repeatedly if I was pulling his leg. 'Is this a real thing?' or 'Are you serious?' And when I finally convinced him he was actually going to get a vaccine that day, he started dancing in his seat," Weber said.

"And when the doc came up to ask him questions, he took off his shirt and jumped out of the car and tried giving us his arm right away, he was so excited. It was just a fantastic experience."

Another man turned out to be someone who was supposed to receive a vaccine earlier that day at their clinic, but didn't make it in time.

"We had some great, great responses," Weber said. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Niza Lyapa Nondo.

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