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Governor sends 32,000 vaccines to help the urban area immunize the rest of its front line health care workers before moving on to other groups

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Governor sends 32,000 vaccines to help the urban area immunize the rest of its front line health care workers before moving on to other groups.

Gov. Kate Brown has ordered 32,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines redirected to the Portland area instead of going to other parts of the state.

The move came after news reports that health care workers in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties were unable to be vaccinated because of a shortage of doses. At the same time, other counties were inoculating groups further down the priority list because of excess doses on hand.

"Health care workers and Phase 1a individuals across the state have always been my top priority for vaccination," Brown said Jan. 27.

The Portland area would receive 17,000 additional shots for health care workers and 15,000 for teachers and school staff. "That's currently about 60% of the 53,000 first doses to be sent around the state next week, reflecting the large number of health care workers and individuals from vulnerable populations in the region," Brown said.

Brown did not say where the doses would come from, but her office provided a list of 15 counties that are ahead of schedule on inoculating priority groups. Some of the doses are from a new shipment authorized by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Good news, bad news in Central Oregon

The change in statewide allocation was presented as a good news/bad news scenario by St. Charles Health System President and CEO Joe Sluka. In an online message distributed last Tuesday, he lamented the fact that the state would not be sending the Central Oregon region any more first doses that week.

"We are unsure when new first doses will be allocated to us, but we expect this situation could continue for the next several weeks," he said.

He went on to say that the development was disappointing but added that health leaders "feel fortunate that we have been able to get such a great start on vaccinating our most vulnerable residents."

"It's also important to remember that we're truly all battling this pandemic together, because the virus doesn't differentiate between Central Oregon and the Willamette Valley," Sluka continued. "It doesn't recognize county borders or turn around rather than brave snowy mountain passes. If COVID-19 is spreading in Portland, we will be affected. We need as many people as possible vaccinated, no matter where they live."

Sluka acknowledged that the Central Oregon counties are among those ahead of schedule, and they had opened vaccination to people 75 and older on Jan. 25.

"We were able to do this because we had already vaccinated the vast majority of those who fall into the first phases of the plan," he said.

Sluka went on to report that as of last Tuesday, more than 31,000 people in the tri-county area had received their first dose of the vaccine, and he added that the state has assured regional health officials those people will still receive their second dose as planned.

Changes in reporting COVID deaths

The diversion of doses was announced soon after news reports that Deschutes County and others were inoculating senior citizens 75 and older. Under the current guidelines, those groups were to received shots as late as Feb. 14. The reason the 15 counties are ahead of schedule was not mentioned in Brown's statement or information from Oregon Health Authority.

Brown has made inoculating teachers and school staff a higher priority than vaccinations for those aged 65 and above who are most likely to get seriously ill and die from the virus. Oregon is the only state giving priority to teachers over seniors.

Brown praised counties that had moved more swiftly than expected through the early priority groups.

"Other counties have done a fantastic job and have finished their first round of vaccines for Phase 1a populations," Brown said. "We will push to give first doses to all Phase 1a individuals statewide before Feb. 8."

The state will send second doses to the counties ahead of schedule so they can keep on a timeline for those who have already received their first shots.

In a related development, the Oregon Health Authority said it would stop issuing specific information about COVID-19 deaths in Oregon. Since March, OHA has included the age, home county, place of death, the date of infection, the date of death and the existence of any underlying conditions. Statistics on overall deaths will be maintained, but specific case information will not.

Health authority officials said the compilation of the daily death toll information was stretching staff too thin. Critics and the media questioned the timing, coming amid a debate about Brown's decision to prioritize teachers instead of the elderly. The daily reports showed that the deaths are overwhelmingly in the 70 and older age range.

It also comes the day before the Oregon COVID-19 vaccination committee is expected to issue ongoing prioritization for vaccines.


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