Salem area Covid vaccinations drop as some approach work-related mandate deadlines

Nurses Judy Webb, front, and Judy Barela work at a mobile vaccine clinic run by Salem Health at Chemeketa Community College on Sept. 27, 2021 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

When nurse Judy Barela started giving Covid vaccines in Salem early in the year, people often waited in line for hours to get a shot.

But on Monday, she had few takers at a Salem Health mobile vaccination clinic, with just 13 people stopping by a six-hour clinic on the Chemeketa Community College Salem campus.

With three weeks to go until sprawling state vaccination mandates for health care workers and teachers take effect, Barela said she’s seen more people seeking shots because they’re required for work.

“We’re here to clear up any misinformation that they might have read about and just help them feel more secure,” she said.

As the Delta variant of the coronavirus led to a spike in new Covid infections and hospitalizations in late summer, the number of Oregonians starting their Covid vaccination series also climbed.

But numbers are lagging again in both Marion and Polk counties as well as statewide.

An average of 228 Marion County residents are getting their first Covid vaccine daily, down from 341 people daily during the previous week, according to Oregon Health Authority data. About 71% of county adults have gotten at least one dose of vaccine.

Polk County is averaging 47 people daily getting a first vaccine, down from 89 the previous week, and is 74% vaccinated.

Another Salem Health vaccination clinic held Tuesday at Chemeketa drew 17 people who got a shot, 12 of them first doses.

Among the handful of people getting a shot at Chemeketa Monday was Kishwa Zepeda, a caregiver in a group home for children. Zepeda said she’d held out as long as she could to avoid vaccination but decided to get the Pfizer vaccine so she could keep her job.

“I love my job, I love what I do. I don’t like being forced to get it,” she said.

Zepeda said she hasn’t closely followed news about Covid or vaccinations because it was too negative. Aside from a client at work who recently had Covid, she said she didn’t personally know anyone who got sick or died.

Zepeda said her other coworkers were vaccinated a long time ago. Asked why she’d chosen not to get the vaccine until now, she said that she didn’t like to be told what to do.

“It’s not that I’m against it. It’s my choice – my body, my choice,” she said, tearing up after receiving her shot.

Another woman at the clinic, who declined to give her name, said she was a licensed massage therapist who was being vaccinated in order to keep her job.

“I’m not happy that I have to be here,” she said.

She chose the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose “because I’m down to my last three weeks” before the mandate kicks in. She said she was concerned about the rare reports of blood clots associated with the vaccine, especially because she lives alone.

“Granted it’s a very low number, but what if I’m one of those people?” she said.

Barela said vaccination clinics today feel very different from the early months of the rollout, when shots were in short supply.

Barela and fellow nurses don’t always have a good idea of why someone changed their mind after opting not to get a shot for months, but Barela said concerns about side effects remain common.

“Many people have expressed that they have delayed getting the vaccine because they’re concerned regarding needles,” she said. Often, those patients smile after the fact, remarking that the jab was far less painful than they’d feared.

Judy Webb, another nurse working the vaccination clinic, said other pressures are also convincing people to come in. She recently vaccinated a man who told her he was getting a shot because his mother, a retired nurse, said he couldn’t come over for weekly family dinner unless he was vaccinated.

Recent Salem Health vaccination clinics at Mega Foods on Lancaster Drive Northeast have drawn more participants, which Barela and Webb attributed to the convenient location.

A Saturday clinic there drew 54 takers for shots, 43 of whom were getting a first dose, Salem Health spokeswoman Lisa Wood said.

Webb said the clinic also drew a protestor on a megaphone, who accused the nurses giving shots of killing people.

But people have largely been friendly, and many remain thankful when getting their shots.

“Not everyone is happy, but I’d say the majority are,” Barela said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALEM – We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter starting at $5 a month. Click I want to subscribe!