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.
“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.
“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.
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.”
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.”