Despite the cold weather, wind and drizzle, Morrow County Sheriff Ken Matlack appeared in a jovial mood on Wednesday, Dec. 30, awaiting his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine beneath a tent in the parking lot of the Bartholomew Building in Heppner.

After filling out paperwork and picking an arm, Matlack lifted the left sleeve of his uniform and received the first vaccination of the morning.

“It feels like just getting a flu shot,” he said as he returned to his patrol car to wait out the mandatory 15-minute recovery period.

While Heppner’s Pioneer Memorial Hospital wrapped up its staff vaccinations earlier in the week, the Dec. 30 vaccination event marked the first time Morrow County made vaccines available to law enforcement, firefighters, emergency medical personnel and other first responders.

“I think it’s really a good deal,” Matlack said. “We’re hoping that more people will take the opportunity of getting the shot.”

Matlack said as of Dec. 30 about half of his staff intended to get the vaccine, a number he hopes to see increase as he and others in the department begin to receive the vaccination.

“I think when people start seeing more and more people doing it, it’s going to help get more people interested,” he said.

After the sheriff, Undersheriff John Bowles stepped up for his vaccination followed by Boardman Chief of Police Rick Stokoe and several other first responders.

While the initial trio of vaccinations took place outdoors, county health officials then transitioned to administering vaccinations in a drive-thru. People pulled up, filled out paperwork, parked and received their shot without leaving their vehicles.

Following the vaccination, drivers were required to wait out a 15-minute recovery period to check for side effects before they were able to depart. The drive-thru-style vaccination clinic served as a test run for future vaccination events.

Morrow County Health Department Director Nazario Rivera said the county received roughly 70 doses of the Moderna vaccine from Pioneer Memorial Hospital and expected to receive the first dedicated shipment of 100 vaccines later the same day.

“We received about 70 doses from the hospital from what they had left over and we’re expecting to receive 100 more,” he said.

Rivera stressed the importance of organization and cooperation in getting the vaccines out to as many people as possible. Since the vials each contain a set number of doses and must be used within a limited time period after opening, Rivera said it was important to ensure that the appropriate number of people were scheduled so the vaccines weren’t wasted.

“It’s definitely going to be a challenge moving forward,” said Rivera. “There’s about 11 doses in each vial so making sure that we don’t waste any of our resources is definitely going to be important.”

Nevertheless, Rivera expressed confidence in his staff and their ability to schedule and distribute the vaccine. Rivera said the first doses of vaccines are going to be distributed to first responders, with long-term care facilities to follow.

“We have a good portion of EMS that will be taken care of today, and if not today, (Jan. 5, 2021) for people up in the north part of the county,” he said.

Rivera said he doesn’t expect any issues distributing the vaccine and said the county has enough personnel available to cover the entire county.

“2020 has been a rough year for all people, so hopefully people can take advantage of this and hopefully bring some hope for the new year,” he said.

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