UO teams are playing key roles in local vaccination efforts

First published in Around the O on February 22, 2021.

In keeping with its role as a community leader, the University of Oregon has mobilized resources across campus to help Lane County fight off COVID-19.

Most recently, the UO helped organize 10 vaccination clinics that provided more than 12,000 vaccines to eligible Lane County residents since the COVID-19 vaccines first became available in late December.

The UO is a member of the Lane County Regional COVID-19 Vaccination Collaborative, a group of local health and education agencies that has joined forces to assist Lane County Public Health in providing vaccinations countywide.

The UO is drawing from its experience in staging large events and holding meningococcal vaccination clinics several years ago to help the county meet the logistical challenges of trying to vaccinate thousands of individual as quickly as possible.

“The University of Oregon’s expertise in event planning and project management has been absolutely critical in getting our mass vaccination drive-thru clinics and phase 1b group 1 clinics up and running,” said Steve Mokrohisky, the county administrator. “Vaccinating hundreds of thousands of Lane County residents with a vaccine that is in relatively short supply requires all of our community partners working together and bringing their respective strengths to the table. We are very fortunate to have the University of Oregon at that table and working hand in hand with Lane County on so many different facets of the COVID-19 response.”

Responding to and recovering from COVID-19 is a shared responsibility, and the UO is doing its part to help the county with vaccine rollout, said Krista Dillon, the UO’s director of operations in Safety and Risk Services.

“This is a monumental effort, and no entity can do this work alone,” Dillon said. “Relationships and partnerships are a cornerstone of emergency management, and that is why we offered up our emergency management program staff to help develop a sustainable and effective vaccination program for all of Lane County.”

At one recent event, Vicki Strand, the UO’s continuity and emergency manager in Safety and Risk Services, helped plan and organize a drive-through clinic that administered doses. She was among the workers and volunteers who weathered snow, sleet and rain to ensure it went smoothly.

Days earlier, Dillon helped organize a three-day, 2,000-dose vaccination clinic for area child care providers and educators  that was planned and completed in only seven days.

Those efforts are on top of the large-scale and free public testing and contact tracing programs UO staff and faculty quickly developed and implemented last summer. Combined, they leverage the university’s expertise across a range of disciplines to benefit residents of Eugene, Springfield and Lane County.

“We’ll need this for at least the remainder of 2021, and the goal is setting up mass vaccination systems that are transferable and scalable to other locations within the county,” said Andre LeDuc, associate vice president for safety and risk services and chief resilience officer. “Our whole emergency management staff is now unified and embedded with Lane County Public Health and we’re working together to build these systems.”

The shot itself is only one part of the process.

“It’s not just putting a vaccine into somebody’s arm,” LeDuc said. “It’s making sure data is loaded into the state alert program, it’s the scheduling for second doses and making sure we’re setting up systems  to ensure that community members complete the vaccine series.”

That also includes storing vaccines properly, determining the right amounts to deliver to a site, ensuring that shots go to people who are eligible to receive the vaccine, and implementing a standby system to ensure any excess doses of vaccine aren’t wasted.

Lately, Dillon and Strand have been on the front lines of those vaccination sites, drawing on their years of experience to ensure they run smoothly.

Dillon has been working with public and private K-12 schools and local child care providers to get their staffs vaccinated. That included a recent event where the UO helped secure a vendor to administer vaccines. Not a single dose went to waste.

“The clinic was a huge push in a short amount of time,” Dillon said. “It ended up working really, really well. We got lots of positive feedback.”

Learning from the experience she gained helping coordinate the university’s meningitis clinics in 2015-16, she’s been able to take charge of coordinating vaccination of the entire education sector so the county could focus on other needs.

“If we get our child care providers and educators vaccinated, there are more opportunities for kids to get back into child care and school settings, and more opportunities for people to get back to work,” Dillon said.

Prior to her job at Safety and Risk Services, Strand worked for 22 years in the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, coordinating event logistics for football, basketball, track and field, and the U.S. Olympic track and field trials as well as the meningitis vaccination clinics at Matt Knight Arena. Now she’s assisting Lane County set up drive-through clinics and possible walk-up sites.

The expertise throughout the university in large-scale logistics — whether it’s helping the community stage the U.S Olympic Team trials or coordinating a resource hub for wildfire victims within 48 hours, as happened last summer — also comes with a responsibility to step up early and assist with such a communitywide need.

“It would be ridiculous to sit on the sidelines until they said, ‘Higher ed, it’s time for you now,’” Strand said. “That’s being a poor partner. There’s so much we can do to help, and why not?”

LeDuc, Strand, Dillon and others from within the UO and the collaborative are developing plans that will be needed two and three months from now, while the county addresses the most immediate needs. That includes scaling up the drive-through clinics to high-volume, 16-lane capacities, with one already in the works for Autzen Stadium. They’re coordinating with coastal and rural communities for clinics there as well.

Up next is building a “vaccination corps” of students, similar to the UO’s Corona Corps and COVID Monitoring and Assessment Program testing team, that will assist at the mass clinics.

For LeDuc and his team, it’s their part of the multiagency effort to get the job done, with the university contributing resources as a citizen of its community.

“Out of all the things we’ve done in my career at UO, this will be the most impactful,” Dillon said. “I try and tell my daughter, this is bigger than the UO, bigger than the community. This is huge, but it’s also about problem-solving. There are going to be little problems to solve and big problems to solve, and if we think about it from that perspective, we can be successful together.”