In a single day, Dillingham clinic vaccinates almost 20 percent of community

A health care worker fills a syringe with a dose of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021. (Izzy Ross/KDLG)

The Dillingham High School gym hummed with activity Saturday. Health care workers sat at tables spread across the room, as people waited for a dose of the Moderna vaccine. 

It was Dillingham’s second weekend clinic, and the first since the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation opened up vaccine eligibility to anyone over 18. 

Patricia Owens was among a group waiting patiently on the gym’s hard plastic bleachers. She had just received her second of the two-dose vaccination. 

“I want to be healthy for my community and the people around me,” she said. “I want to be able to see my mom and my grandkids.” 

People who get vaccinated may still be able spread COVID-19. But Owens said getting the shot gives her hope it’ll be safer for her to travel and see her family. Her mom is 87 and lives in Palmer. 

“In fact, I wanted to ask somebody when can I go see my mom. And my grandkids!” she said. “I’ve got lots of grandkids. They live in Anchorage, so it’s been over a year since I’ve seen them.” 

Kimberly Williams, a Curyung Tribal Council member chief, was among those who volunteered at the clinic. She’s also an essential worker with Tanana Air, so she’d already received both doses.

“I got my second dose and I went smelting on Saturday and Sunday, so you can tell the vaccine didn’t hit me at all,” she said.  

The clinic was organized by the health corporation in partnership with the Tribe, city, and state-run Dillingham Public Health Clinic.

Once people got their shot, workers with the Tribe handed them a blue tote bag.

“So the Tribe, through our CARES money that we have received from the Department of Treasury, have put together CARES kits,” she explained. “We have our Tribal administrator here and some workers giving out masks, gloves, a thermometer, an O2 sat machine so that if you do get COVID, you’re able to monitor your oxygen saturation level.”

Williams said the clinic is going well, although they’re not as busy as she’d like to see. 

“I’m helping with the vaccination and filling out the cards, and they have nine stations here, and not every station is busy at the same time,” she said. “I would love for us to all be busy giving out the vaccinations.”

The clinic was structured to serve Elders and those considered high-risk during separate hours. But the stream of people showing up to get the vaccine was slow enough that nobody was turned away when they arrived.

Sierra and Joseph Roehl received their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021. (Izzy Ross/KDLG)

In the bleachers, Sierra Roehl, 22, waited with her younger brother, Joseph. 

“I’m relieved, yeah,” said Joseph, who is 19, and works at the N & N grocery store.

“We got our second dose today,” Sierra said. “It was so short. We actually came a little earlier than noon, and we were kind of able to sneak by and get our shots right away. And it feels pretty good — a lot faster process than the last time.”

Sierra is the assistant manager of Bayside Diner and the Bristol Inn. She said receiving the vaccine brings her hope. 

“I can’t wait to open more, for the community to have dine-in at the diner, and then have more business. Because obviously this whole summer, winter has been so slow,” she said. “So the summertime — we’re really hoping that a lot of people in the community are able to be a lot more comfortable with this situation going on, to allow us to get more income and revenue for the business during the summer here.”

The Tribal health organization is sending teams of health care workers into the villages to offer the vaccine throughout the Bristol Bay region. 

In all, approximately 425 people received either their first or second dose at the clinic.

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