During a winter storm in mid-February, VA Portland Health Care System flew 144 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from Portland to Redmond, Oregon. The 170-plus mile trip bypassed a lofty and icy mountain pass to get Veterans vaccinated at the Bend Robert D. Maxwell VA Clinic.

This was one of the first such authorizations in VA to fly the vaccine to rural clinics and to avoid weather-related travel issues.

Pictured above: VA Portland staff members Amar Patel and Nicole Woods arriving with the COVID-19 vaccines. Woods is associate chief nurse executive and Patel is associate chief of pharmacy.

“It is a milestone for VA Portland to be able to transport vaccine through the air to help reach our rural-area Veterans,” said Stephen Moore, the Bend Clinic operations manager. “What’s more important is that we are getting Veterans in Central Oregon vaccinated.”

Air Force Veteran (56-59) Nancy Sprauer from Sisters, Oregon, getting her COVID vaccination at the Bend clinic.

Sending 140 doses a week

VA Portland had previously administered more than 400 doses of the COVID vaccine to Bend VA Clinic Veterans since mid-January. The health care system was sending 140-plus doses per week of the Pfizer vaccine to the Bend VA clinic. Starting in March, the system switched to transporting about 600 doses per month of the Moderna vaccine.

VA Portland has greatly expanded rural-Veteran vaccination efforts in recent weeks. This includes a recent mass-vaccination event in the small town of The Dalles, 90 miles east of Portland. The health care system is also planning similar events 100 miles to the west. The events are scheduled in the coastal town of Warrenton, Oregon, for mid-March.

The health care staff expects the separate events to vaccinate about 1,000 Veterans who cannot easily travel to the main hospital for their vaccinations.

More mass vaccination events are being planned to help reach thousands more of VA Portland’s remote-area Veterans. The health care system serves more than 95,000 Veterans at 12 sites of care in their 26-county area of responsibility in Oregon and Southwest Washington.

As of March 5, VA Portland has delivered more than 38,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

E-mails to Veterans so they can self-schedule online

One advantage VA Portland has over many community agencies in scheduling COVID vaccinations is having contact information on all those they can vaccinate. VA Portland emails eligible Veterans direct so they can self-schedule on-line.

The health care system makes thousands of direct, automated phone calls and follow-up calls every day. They connect Veterans with staff members to schedule their appointments.

The automated systems are very efficient and minimizes any Veteran hold times and the need for Veterans to call VA.


Daniel E. Herrigstad is a public affairs officer with the VA Portland Health Care System.

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