Portland’s Mass Vaccination Site Offers Relief, Frustration, and a Return to Normalcy

We hear from folks who got their arms poked about the vaccination process at the Oregon Convention Center.

By Aurora Biggers January 28, 2021

"The more people can do this, the more we’ll get back to normal," says Tessa Stephenson, an educator for Endeavor Schools and an emergency childcare provider.

A week after its opening on January 21, Portland’s mass COVID-19 vaccination site at the Oregon Convention Center is still finding its rhythm. While people are contending with conflicting appointments and long wait times, some are simply relieved to receive the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

According to vaccine site staff, the site, created by Kaiser Permanante, Legacy, OHSU, and Providence, is currently vaccinating up to 3,000 people a day. After Oregon Gov. Kate Brown expanded the highest priority list for Phase 1A the site welcomed the first batch of eligible educators and childcare providers on Wednesday. 

The Oregon Convention Center COVID-19 vaccine site was created by Kaiser Permanente, Legacy, OHSU, and Providence.

Tessa Stephenson, an educator for Endeavor Schools and an emergency childcare provider, was among the first educators at the Convention Center to receive the vaccine. “It was easy,” she said, “I’m feeling great.” Despite long lines, Stephenson says the process was well organized. For Stephenson, getting the vaccine wasn’t even a question. “It’s super vital, so we can keep everyone safe,” she says.

Individuals on Wednesday received the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, which requires a second dose. Stephenson says she is scheduled to receive the second dose February 17. “I feel super hopeful,” she said, “The more people can do this, the more we’ll get back to normal.” 

Matthew Hicks

The site in Northeast Portland serves as a major location for Metro-area medical professionals to receive their vaccinations. Matthew Hicks, a naturopathic doctor, says he was anxious to receive the vaccination after facing difficulty getting prioritized as a private practitioner. As a doctor, Hicks says he trusts the efficacy of the new vaccines, despite their hurried timeline under Operation Warp Speed. “I’ve heard nothing but positive things from research and from the medical community,” he said. Though he admits that the wait inside the center was a bit long, Hicks says the overall process was “pretty painless.” Like Stephenson, Hicks sees the vaccine as “one step back to normal.”

Officials from the site hope to start administering up to 7,500 vaccines a day, and, on Wednesday, Brown announced that the Metro region will receive 17,000 additional doses for high priority Phase 1A eligible groups during the week of February 1 (that’s in addition to the 15,000 doses already designated for educators that week). Once the additional doses disperse, the Convention Center will likely start to see those greater numbers. The question is, will the center will find its rhythm before then?

Ron Rouse

Wednesday was the site’s first day vaccinating en masse, and staff there expected to administer all 3,000 vaccinations. As the line started to wrap outside the center and into the parking garage, some members of the vaccine greeting team began to question how the process would fare with double the number of people. But these bumps in the process didn’t faze Ron Rouse, a fire inspector for Portland hospitals. “[The Convention Center staff] really made it easy,” he says. “It was a piece of cake.” When asked if he felt any hesitation toward getting the vaccine, Rouse responded definitively: “Not at all.” Rouse joined the exclusive club of those vaccinated, and it’s a good feeling, he said. “I have a sense of relief. I’m ready [for the second dose].” 

The vaccination process was met with frustration, confusion, and long lines, but for many, the wait for a vaccine to curb the lasting pandemic, and a chance to return to normal, is worth it. 

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