Stranded motorists receive a Covid vaccine from Josephine County Public Health workers on Highway 199 outside of Cave Junction on Jan. 26 (Courtesy/Josephine County Public Health)

One woman was so overcome with joy at the chance to get the coronavirus vaccine that her hands shook as she filled out the paperwork. A man was so excited he did a happy dance. A young woman gleefully accepted the offer, saying she didn’t think she would be eligible for a long time.

They were among six lucky recipients stranded in the middle of a snowstorm Tuesday who got a knock on their icy windows from public health workers also stuck on US. 199 outside of Cave Junction in southern Oregon.

“Once we knew that the vaccines weren’t going to make it down the mountain, the choice was obvious,” said Mike Weber, public health director for Josephine County.

As the winter storm bore down, he and a handful of colleagues packed up the vaccination clinic they’d held that day at Illinois Valley High School and headed into the snow.

They had hoped to deliver six leftover does to a half-dozen people who they’d lined up at a clinic in Grants Pass, about 45 minutes away.

They made it onto 199 where a tractor-trailer up ahead had jackknifed, shutting down the highway. The closure would last for hours, authorities predicted.

Weber didn’t want the team’s valuable cargo to go to waste. The Moderna vaccines they had on hand were only good for six hours after they’d been drawn.

They were left with only one choice: Get out of their cars and offer shots to their fellow stranded motorists.

Weber said with so many limits on supply and eligibility, it’s critical not to waste a single dose.

“I’ve made it clear to my staff that above everything else, we will not waste any,” he said. “We have gotten so little vaccine in our community that it really is a precious commodity.”

They zipped up their coats and stepped out of their cars, moving as a team from car to car as the snow piled up around them.

Weber said the team had gotten information about the jackknifed trailer from county emergency management officials so they were able to let motorists know about the source for the delay.

“We were going car to car letting people know what was happening and in the course of having that conversation and explaining that we also told them the situation that we were in, that we were with public health and that we were coming from a vaccine clinic and we had doses that had to be administered and we were just looking for folks that may want to get it,” he said.

He said the offer was greeted with humor, confusion and, for some, jubilation.

Most, though, politely declined.

“This is not an area of the state that is necessarily as excited about getting the vaccine as a lot of others,” Weber said. “There is a lot of vaccine hesitancy here. We were unsure how people would respond.”

Josephine County has among the lowest rates of child vaccinations in the state, according to the latest data from the Oregon Health Authority.

The group approached 40 vehicles to find six people who wanted the vaccine, he said.

“For six people it was very exciting,” he said. “For everyone else, it was obviously varied.”

The man who did the jig had thought it would be months before he would get vaccinated.

“I never thought I would be happy to be stuck in a snowstorm,” he told Weber.

“He wound up jumping out of his car, ripping off his shirt in the middle of the storm so we could get his arm,” Weber said. “He was about as excited as I have ever seen anyone.”

Another woman told Weber’s team that she had tried to get a vaccine from their clinic at Illinois Valley High School clinic but it had just shut down as she got there from Grants Pass.

“She was she was really grateful and happy,” Weber said.

She got the last dose.

-- Noelle Crombie; [email protected]; 503-276-7184; @noellecrombie

This story is published with permission as part of a statewide collaboration of news organizations to share stories. Salem Reporter is part of the collaboration. 

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