Student Rachel Owen gets the Pfizer vaccine. Photo courtesy of Rachel Owen

An interview with SHAC Medical Director Dr. Mark Bajorek

SHAC ready and willing to distribute vaccines as needed

The center for Student Health and Counseling, located on the Portland State campus, provides COVID-19 testing, but does not currently offer the vaccine. SHAC’s website states it is “taking measures to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine,” but it is unclear when the center will obtain it since Oregon controls vaccine distribution within the state.


SHAC Medical Director Dr. Mark Bajorek stated all health practitioners and nurses working at SHAC have been certified and trained, so if they receive a shipment of vaccines, they are prepared to administer them.


“We’ve also gone through the training and made sure our refrigerators are up to snuff so that if they drop off [the] vaccine, we can store it for the appropriate amount of time,” Bajorek said. “We have all the right conditions for that, so those pieces are in place. We have the gloves, we have the syringes and needles, we have all those pieces in place.” 


SHAC does not have any direct control over obtaining the vaccines or have any specific information on when they will be available. Bajorek stated if individuals are interested in receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, they should check out the airport (PDX Red Lot Vaccine Clinic) or Oregon Convention Center, which currently administer the vaccine and have the infrastructure to distribute vaccines in much larger quantities.


Bajorek said SHAC could realistically vaccinate 100–200 people a week, compared to the thousands of vaccines that other venues like the airport or convention center can administer per week.


“Give us a couple of hundred vaccines, and we’ll get them to students, faculty and staff,”
Bajorek said. “We’d be able to arrange that, too. I don’t decide how the vaccine is allocated. All I can say is, we have the pieces in place. We’d be happy to take care of folks.” 


Bajorek did acknowledge that certain populations of individuals may be unable or unwilling to venture to those areas to receive vaccines. 


“Right now, the convention center is open, and they’re doing 1,000 vaccines a day, which is fantastic. But what groups are missing? You know, maybe not everybody can go between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., so how do we make sure that we capture those people that want to get vaccinated?”


Many students who attend PSU are also off-campus, presenting a unique challenge to international and marginalized students.


“I think there are just so many competing interests, like schools opening back up,” Bajorek said.  “Are we taking care of them? While stores are open, are we making sure that food service workers are taken care of? For restaurants or cafes that are opening, are the people that work those jobs also taken care of, and have they been vaccinated? It’s a tricky thing. It is just a new problem for all of us to discern through. Some of the things I’m sure we’ll get right, but we have to be able to recognize when we’re headed down the wrong track.”


As of April 19, everyone 16 years of age and older in the United States is eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccination. Those looking to receive a vaccination can visit to find vaccine providers near them. They can also check your local pharmacy’s website for vaccine availability, or watch local news outlets and the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) website for more information.


When asked about the types of vaccines that will be available, Bajorek stated SHAC doesn’t have control over the particular brand of vaccinations they will receive in the future. Regarding the eligibility of the vaccine, SHAC would be offering it free-of-charge to students, faculty and staff members. 


Potential side effects of the vaccine mainly include a sore arm and fatigue. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has made headlines recently, with reports of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, or clots in the brain, in an extremely small amount of individuals who received the vaccine. 


Administration of the vaccine had been put on pause due to potential safety concerns, though use of the vaccine will soon resume with an extra warning added to its label about blood clot risk, the Food and Drug Administration announced Friday. The Center for Disease Control has begun an investigation into the death of one Oregon woman who died within two weeks of receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The OHA emphasized it is too early to draw a connection between the death and the vaccine until the investigation is concluded.


When asked about the J&J vaccine, Bajorek stated the risk for developing these blood clots is “about six per six-million, so it’s like one-in-a-million. Being struck by lightning in your lifetime is like one-in-15,000.” He said the risk of getting a blood clot from COVID-19 is much higher than from a vaccine. 


Individuals who receive the vaccine are not injected with a live virus—unlike measles boosters, for example, which use weakened versions of the virus


“There are three different types of vaccines, and two of the most common are the Moderna and the Pfizer,” Bajorek said. “They are messenger-RNA related, so you’re getting this RNA in a lipid particle, and that’s what’s going into your system. It meets up with the ribosome and is converted to a protein, and then your body makes antibodies to that protein—but there’s never any virus; it’s just part of the code for that virus that gets injected into the body.” 


As far as who should get the vaccine, Bajorek stated everyone eligible to receive one should. Younger people who are not in a high-risk category can still come into contact with the virus and potentially spread it to others who may be immunocompromised.


Some people do experience challenges with receiving the vaccine, but individuals and medical professionals such as Bajorek are doing their best to help.


“I’ve, on my own time, gone to group homes and given vaccines to people and volunteered to help people that are in marginalized communities,” Bajorek said. “We have got to make sure those people are taken care of. I mean, that’s what healthcare is about—protecting people you know and making sure that they stay well.”


Even if we do end up reaching herd immunity, which is when most of the population in an area becomes immune to a specific disease, Bajorek said “we have to monitor how long this vaccine lasts. We know that some vaccines last a lifetime, and others, like the flu vaccine, you still have to get one every year. And, you know there’s a possibility that we’ll continue to make boosters, and we’ll have to monitor for that, whether that’s in six months or a year or two years.”


The Biden Administration has recently begun working on what it calls the COVID-19 Community Corps, an initiative to enlist people to help their friends, family and neighbors get access to vaccines. Just under 50% of American adults have yet to receive any shot of a vaccine, and vaccine supply will soon overtake demand.


Bajorek said any updates regarding the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine will be posted on SHAC’s website and sent out to students, faculty and staff via email. SHAC is encouraging individuals to get a vaccine wherever there is availability. Information can be found on the Oregon COVID-19 vaccine website.


“We just want to get that vaccine out to folks,” Bajorek said. “We continue to advise our friends, ‘please get a vaccine. Volunteer and get a vaccine. Do whatever you can to get a vaccine.’”