Freddy Joklur piled his family into the van on Friday after receiving a call from a community health worker at CHAS.
After nearly a year of fighting to keep the virus out of the family home, Joklur’s in-laws could get the COVID-19 vaccine at a community clinic for Pacific Islanders at Rogers High School.
So on a below-freezing afternoon, Joklur’s inlaws, Kranchy and Nosie Minor, received the first dose of the Moderna vaccine from their passenger seats at the drive-thru community clinic.
Joklur and his wife, in the driver’s and passenger seats both with masks on, were not eligible yet. They were relieved, however.
Their family has avoided the virus thus far, and vaccines mean they are one step closer to returning to normal life.
“The pandemic has pulled us together as a family,” Joklur said. “The challenge was trying to be safe and follow the guidelines.”
Parked and waiting for 15 minutes to see if there would be any adverse reactions to the shots, Joklur asked his in-laws how they felt.
“They feel awesome,” Joklur translated.
In the first community-based vaccine clinic targeted to Pacific Islanders in Spokane County, more than 100 residents who hail from numerous Pacific Islands were able to access the first dose of coronavirus vaccine after nearly a year of pandemic shut-in.
Spokane is home to many Islanders, including the second-largest Marshallese community in the United States.
The pandemic has disproportionately hit this community. Despite making up just 0.6% of the county’s population, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders account for 2% of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the region, meaning more than 700 have tested positive over the course of the pandemic.
Doresty Daniel, a community organizer and local representative to the Marshallese community, went from car to car, helping people fill out forms, speaking Marshallese to elders and translating necessary information onto forms as she went. Daniel, along with many other community organizers, had been making phone calls all week to get eligible community members, who are 65 and older or 50 and older living in multigenerational households, to come get the vaccine.
On Thursday, Daniel said she put up a Facebook post to fill available slots, which resulted in a late night of phone calls. She fielded questions about the process, how they would be monitored and who is eligible.
“I’ve been focusing on the older people who’ve been positive and hospitalized,” Daniel said earlier in the week. “Because of their experience in the hospital, they are the ones who reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, we want to get the shot.’ ”
More than 100 eligible Pacific Islanders were vaccinated on Friday, and some doses went to health care and frontline workers from the community who still have not had access to the vaccine. The clinic was a collaboration among several groups, particularly the Pacific Islander Community Association, which has been advocating and organizing vaccine access for their elders statewide.
Community health workers spoke with car passengers, filling out the vaccination forms. Medical Reserve Corps members and WSU Pharmacy students ran doses out to cars from inside the high school lobby. Doses had to be kept indoors to keep them from refreezing, since they need to be thawed in order to be used.
The event was coupled with a food distribution. Young volunteers filled the trunks of cars and vans with bags of food, while others helped those eligible fill out vaccination forms. Translators from five different islands were available to people as they drove up.
The turnout at the clinic was evidenced by the steady stream of cars in front of the high school from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., despite time constraints and the quick turnaround to sign people up. Initially, clinic organizers thought they would only get 50 vaccine doses.
“Last week we were only able to be promised 50 vaccines, and from my perspective and our community’s perspective can you tell us why we’re only promised 50 vaccines … and we were dying at the highest rate in the state?” asked Kiana McKenna, community organizer with PICA in Eastern Washington.
By Monday, however, between the Spokane Regional Health District and CHAS, 200 were set aside for Friday’s clinic.
The clinic is just the first of many to come, McKenna said, and the next clinic is scheduled in four weeks, when those who were vaccinated on Friday will get their second doses.
Joseph Seia, founder of PICA in Washington, was at Rogers High School on Friday. The association hosted a similar clinic in King County earlier this month. He said Pacific Islanders are going to the community groups that they trust for vaccines, noting that increasing access is the key.
“It’s not a hesitancy thing; it’s an access thing,” he said.