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News / Clark County News

Tower Mall vaccination site takes its last shot

Tuesday was final day as demand wanes, virus eases

By Jack Heffernan, Columbian county government and small cities reporter
Published: June 29, 2021, 6:20pm
3 Photos
Xander Hulse of Vancouver receives his second shot during the last day of the Tower Mall COVID-19 vaccination site Tuesday morning.
Xander Hulse of Vancouver receives his second shot during the last day of the Tower Mall COVID-19 vaccination site Tuesday morning. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The COVID-19 vaccination site at Tower Mall closed Tuesday after more than six months of testing and vaccination efforts.

The closure is part of a larger reduction of Clark County Public Health’s vaccination drive as local demand wanes and COVID-19 activity decreases. The federal incident management team that has helped plan and manage community vaccination sites since January is demobilizing Wednesday.

The drive-thru site in Vancouver Heights debuted as a rapid testing center on Jan. 12, during the early stages of national vaccination efforts. It opened as a vaccination site on March 5, as vaccine shipments to Clark County increased following an initial shortage.

The county partnered with the city of Vancouver, the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency, the state Department of Health and the nonprofit group Health Commons Project on the testing site. The county, city of Vancouver and Safeway collaborated for the vaccine phase.

More than 41,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been administered at the site since it opened, according to county Public Health data.

“I’m proud of these accomplishments and grateful for the many partnerships that made them possible,” Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick said in a statement Tuesday. “This has been a communitywide effort and highlights the strength of collaboration and a shared commitment to protecting the health of our community.”

Lesser demand

The decreased demand for vaccinations has been visible throughout the site’s last few days.

Workers there said that they administered 53 doses on Tuesday. They had poked more than 1,000 arms in any given day during the peak of the vaccination drive.

Cade Reitzenstein, 18, of Vancouver, received his second dose at the site Tuesday and said the process worked “pretty smoothly.”

“Luckily, the times that I came, there was no one here,” Reitzenstein said.

Kathy Thacker, 68, of Vancouver, and her dog Eiley were inside one of the cars that trickled in Tuesday morning, before the site closed at noon due to heat.

“I wasn’t going to really do the vaccine, but part of me said to go ahead and do it,” Thacker said. “I just wanted to get my mask off.”

Reitzenstein offered a similar sentiment.

“I’ve been doing everything I needed to do, but I know I have a better chance of not getting sick now,” he said. “Now my mom can stop emailing me to get it.”

Workers acknowledged that the job became tougher recently as demand plummeted and temperatures skyrocketed on the asphalt parking lot.

“I love working with them, but I’m not going to miss the hot weather — that’s for sure,” said Michelle Lyons, a nurse who administered vaccines.

Clara Robertson and Travis Robe were two of the temporary workers who helped assist with site operations. On Tuesday morning, they were managing traffic at the waiting zone after drivers received their vaccines.

Robe started working there — wearing brand-new running shoes — before vaccinations began. On Tuesday, he displayed the shoes’ significantly worn soles.

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“I don’t think I’m taking a run anytime soon,” he said.

The workers said that the vast majority of people came to the site with positive attitudes.

“It was encouraging that people were so appreciative,” said DeAnna Owens, a Safeway pharmacist.

Also on their minds was the realization that their efforts were reducing the virus that has gripped the community for more than 15 months.

“It feels like an important job,” Robertson said.

Accessible vaccines

The county has also administered more than 7,100 doses at mobile and one-day clinics. The clinics took place at adult family homes and long-term care facilities, shelters and encampments, food processing facilities, housing authority residences and the residences of people who are home-bound.

“They made COVID-19 vaccine more accessible for people living in Fruit Valley, Woodland, Washougal, Yacolt and Ridgefield,” Melnick said. “These efforts wouldn’t have been possible without our incredible partners — medical reserve corps, school districts, fire and emergency medical responders, health care facilities, community-based organizations and more.”

The health department will continue to connect health care providers and other entities to resources for vaccination efforts, Melnick said. It will also continue community outreach and education efforts in the hopes of upping vaccination rates.

As of Monday, 222,498 people in Clark County — roughly 55 percent of the county’s population — were fully vaccinated.

“Our work to manage the COVID-19 pandemic in Clark County is also not over,” Melnick said. “Since the pandemic began in early 2020, we’ve investigated COVID-19 cases, worked with facilities to manage outbreaks, monitored COVID-19 activity and hospitalizations and helped local facilities and businesses to navigate state guidance.

“That work will continue.”

Columbian county government and small cities reporter