University Vaccine Clinics Build Bridge to Latino Community

Pharmacist Jeff Fortner prepares a patient to be vaccinated at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in partnership with Centro Cultural in Forest Grove, Oregon

Pharmacist Jeff Fortner prepares a patient to be vaccinated at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in partnership with Centro Cultural in Forest Grove, Oregon

When residents of Washington County, Oregon, began returning to the Pacific University campus for their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine, Jeff Fortner, PharmD, a pharmacy professor who oversaw the vaccination process at the clinics, noticed something—they were bringing relatives with them to receive their first dose.

“One of the benefits of the repeat visits for the second dose and the booster,” said Fortner, “was that you might catch someone who had brought a relative the first time, or the first and second time, and now they were willing to take the plunge themselves.”

This phenomenon frequently played out among Latino patients, who often live close to extended family. It was gratifying for Fortner to see since he and his team at Pacific University had made special efforts to increase vaccine access for the Latino residents of Washington County. The county, which is part of metropolitan Portland, includes both urban areas and rural farmland. Nearly one in six residents is Latino.

When Fortner stepped up to help lead the university’s COVID-19 vaccine clinics, the original plan was to vaccinate the faculty, staff, and students at the main campus in Forest Grove, Oregon. Once the operation was up and running, Fortner said, “We realized we could help the greater community as well.”

Marketing of the university’s COVID-19 vaccine clinics involved spreading the word that the vaccination events would be open to members of the public as they became eligible to receive the vaccine. But Fortner and the clinic team knew that it would take more than generic flyers and social media posts from the university to reach some of the region’s most vulnerable residents.

“Access to health care [for Latino residents in the area] is not ideal, and it was important that they got their information about the vaccine from a trusted source,” Fortner said.

Fortner and the clinic team partnered with a local nonprofit organization, Centro Cultural, which provides an array of services for the Hispanic and Latino people of Washington County. As part of its mission, Centro Cultural works to reduce barriers to health care for the people in its community.

“Centro served as that trusted source in the community that could provide vaccine information to the Hispanic population,” Fortner said.

Pacific University and Centro Cultural worked together to create Spanish-language flyers, informational videos, and social media posts to educate the Spanish-speaking community about the vaccine and make them aware of the vaccine clinics nearby. The videos explained how COVID-19 vaccines work, discussed potential side effects, and debunked COVID-19 vaccine misinformation.

“Centro was already a known organization,” said Fortner, “so when they passed out flyers and posted videos about the vaccine, the folks they were trying to reach were much more willing to show up and get vaccinated, so that was our way of helping increase access.”

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Over the course of the vaccine rollout, Fortner helped design and implement several events, including one indoor clinic as well as multiple outdoor walk-up and drive-through events. Through their partnership, Centro Cultural and Pacific University brought in bilingual staff, students, and organization affiliates to serve as interpreters during every step of the process for Spanish-only speakers, from check-in through the 15-minute post-vaccine waiting period.

To accommodate the large numbers of patients, which included people of all backgrounds, Fortner also led immunization training for health professions students in the university’s physician assistant, dental hygiene, and optometry programs.

The massive effort, Fortner noted, required the time and energy of untold collaborators ranging from campus facilities staff, who ran electricity outdoors and set up tents, to numerous volunteers and health sciences faculty and students who served as clinical staff.

“That was one of the nicest things about it,” Fortner emphasized, “that it was all hands on deck.”

—Sonya Collins
April 2022

Resources to Reach Diverse Communities and Community Outreach Tools to increase COVID-19 vaccine confidence are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.