Smooth sailing for day one of the Tower Mall COVID-19 vaccination site in Vancouver


The site is expected to vaccinate 2,400 people through next Tuesday, and may remain open if more doses become available

VANCOUVER — Under a steady March drizzle, a similarly steady parade of cars pulled into tents in the parking lot of the Tower Mall site along Mill Plain Blvd in Vancouver. They rolled down their windows, rolled up their sleeves, and took a small step back towards what they hope is a return to normal.

Safeway Pharmacist Amanda Yu delivers a vaccine dose to Charlie Hays of La Center at the Tower Mall vaccination site on Friday. Photo by Mike Schultz
Safeway Pharmacist Amanda Yu delivers a vaccine dose to Charley Hays of La Center at the Tower Mall vaccination site on Friday. Photo by Mike Schultz

“I feel great man,” said Dola Anthony Conley of Vancouver after getting his first dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. “You know, taking care of the virus, right? That’s what it’s all about.”

The Tower Mall site, the first locally run mass vaccination clinic in Clark County, is anticipating up to 600 people per day through next Tuesday, closed on Sunday. 

If more vaccine becomes available, said Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick, those dates would likely be extended.

Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick speaks at the Tower Mall community vaccination site on Friday. Photo by Mike Schultz
Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick speaks at the Tower Mall community vaccination site on Friday. Photo by Mike Schultz

“It’s a great partnership, as you can see, between the city of Vancouver, Safeway, (and) Clark County Public Health,” said Melnick. “The vaccine is from the Federal vaccination program through the pharmacies.”

That means, Melnick noted, that the doses being used at the Tower Mall site are in addition to the 14,140 first doses sent to Clark County from the state this week, a number the county hopes isn’t just a one-time thing.

Those doses have been going to health providers, such as Legacy, PeaceHealth Southwest, SeaMar Clinics, The Vancouver Clinic and others, in addition to Vancouver Housing Authority and some mobile vaccination efforts at adult family homes and long-term care facilities.

Drivers park for 20 minutes after getting a dose of COVID-19 vaccine, to make sure they don’t develop any allergic reactions. Photo by Mike Schultz
Drivers park for 20 minutes after getting a dose of COVID-19 vaccine, to make sure they don’t develop any allergic reactions. Photo by Mike Schultz

At one point, the county had over 37,000 people signed up on a waitlist to be notified when they could schedule a vaccine dose. That number is down to about 20,000, but enough of those didn’t respond when offered a spot at the Tower Mall site that appointments were opened up to the general public — assuming you are eligible under the current vaccine phases.

“We’re also holding some slots available for communities that have been particularly impacted by the pandemic,” said Melnick. “We’re working with our partners to make appointments for BIPOC people who fit the eligibility criteria as well.”

Many of the people pulling up to get their first shot said they’d been waiting a while, often hoping for a slot at the Clark County Fairgrounds site, which hasn’t been doing first doses in a few weeks, or a call back from their healthcare provider.

“It was, you know, check the websites every morning. And just nothing,” said Charley Hays, 69, of La Center. “You know, you couldn’t get signed in, couldn’t do this, couldn’t do that until Wednesday. And then things started working.”

In another sign that vaccine supplies are finally starting to meet demand, Hays said he got a slot at the Tower Mall site on Wednesday, then got a call from The Vancouver Clinic on Thursday saying they could get him in. He turned that one down, but it shows that the backlog is starting to clear.

“I had friends that were going out to the SeaMar clinic in Battle Ground, getting in line and waiting, then getting their appointment and going back later,” Hays said. “I was patient. I knew it was gonna come around.”

Cars line up with area residents seeking a COVID-19 vaccine dose outside the Tower Mall building in central Vancouver. Photo by Mike Schultz
Cars line up with area residents seeking a COVID-19 vaccine dose outside the Tower Mall building in central Vancouver. Photo by Mike Schultz

For Conley, the vaccine dose represents at least the first step in hopefully returning to normal in what, for many, feels like a wasted year.

“It’s been hard on this family because, you know, my mother-in-law … we can’t go over there because of her age and stuff,” he said. “The grandkids, gotta keep them separated too. But, yeah, we did it. We’re getting through it. Everyone’s getting their shots and hopefully, you know, we’ll get back to normal days.”

Hays said the vaccine is a hopeful thing, but as for whether it means a return to normal is around the corner?

“I’ll hold off on my response for that one.”

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About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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