GRANTS PASS, Ore. — The Josephine County Board of Commissioners last week recognized six employees who used their leftover COVID-19 vaccine doses to inoculate drivers stranded in a snowstorm last month, going viral in the process.
Josephine County Public Health closed down its COVID-19 vaccination clinic on January 26 at Illinois Valley High School early due to the incoming winter storm, and staff began heading back to Grants Pass. They had six doses left of the Moderna vaccine that were set to expire in a few hours.
"Recipients had been identified in Grants Pass, but plans changed when the team was stuck on Redwood Highway near Hayes Hill, which had been closed due to a snow-related traffic accident," Josephine County said in a statement.
Stuck with a line-up of drivers in the snow and with the clock ticking on the remaining doses, the Public Health team — which included Mike Weber, Public Health director; Dr. David Candelaria, Public Health officer; Leah Swanson, emergency preparedness coordinator; Anthony Perry, communicable disease specialist; and Justin Fimbres, environmental health specialist — decided to walk from car to car and offer doses to the stranded drivers.
Josephine County said that the team spoke to more than 40 drivers in all, finally finding six who were happy to take the vaccine.
“They walked car to car, introducing themselves and explaining the situation,” said Darin Fowler, Josephine County commissioner. “In doing so, they were able to use the remainder of the vaccines and not let any expire.”
Within a days, the story went viral. Josephine County said that it was on more than 100 news outlets, including The New York Times, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and the BBC. Late-night hosts Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers and Trevor Noah also talked about the story. It was a question on NPR’s radio quiz show “Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!”
Weber and Swanson made an appearance on "The Drew Barrymore Show," where they talked about the experience.
“It really was some of the best of what employees can do in representing the county and serving their fellow citizens,” Fowler said. “That kind of recognition is hard to come by, and getting Josephine County’s name out there for really great reasons is something.”
The Board of Josephine County Commissioners decided to recognize the five Public Health employees and Emergency Manager Sara Rubrecht — who drove through the snow with a trailer full of the clinic equipment — with wall plaques on February 3. The plaques read “In recognition of a job well done and the enduring commitment to the citizens of Josephine County in response to COVID-19.”
“We’re very proud of these employees,” Fowler said. “We appreciate everything you’ve done this whole past year, where you have gone above and beyond responding to perhaps the weirdest emergency ever. This wasn’t something you could fix and then deal with the aftermath. It has been an ongoing, slow-going, ever-changing event. And you have done amazing work, putting in tremendous hours, yet getting up each day with a smile on your face. Thank you for representing us so well.”
Josephine County says that it vaccinated more than 3,000 people during the three days of vaccination events, with a second dose clinic coming up for those who received their first doses.