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The first batch of COVID vaccines arrived in Central Oregon late last week and will go to a select group of people first

 - St. Charles Health System staff unload doses of COVID vaccines Thursday and deliver them to cold storage for future use.

The first doses of COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Oregon early last week and were delivered to Central Oregon a few days later.

But most people can expect to wait a few more months before they can get vaccinated as state and local health officials provide vaccines to different priority groups throughout the winter and into the spring.

The first of the 35,100 doses of the vaccine manufactured by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE arrived in Oregon on Monday, Dec. 14. Oregon Health Authority (OHA) reported that Legacy Health was the first registered vaccine provider to receive it. Two Portland-area sites and one Ontario-based location in the health system received 975 doses apiece.

The remaining doses were distributed to hospitals throughout the state, with St. Charles Bend receiving 975 doses this past Thursday.

"The Oregon Health Authority has outlined a phased approach to vaccination," Joe Sluka, St. Charles President and CEO said last Tuesday, "meaning health care workers, long-term facility residents and emergency responders will be first on the list."

Follow-up shipments are anticipated on Dec. 22 and 29, OHA reported, and a vaccine manufactured by Moderna Inc. is scheduled for delivery on the same two days. Public health officials expect to have enough doses from the two vaccines to provide first doses to about 100,000 people, with second doses – which are necessary for full protection – following in January.

OHA said that the next round of vaccines will go to a variety of essential workers including paramedics, firefighters, law enforcement personnel, teachers and public health workers. People with underlying health conditions and people older than 65 will follow.

The timeframe for vaccinating those groups is not known for certain, Sluka said it could be several months before there is enough vaccine supply in Central Oregon to begin vaccinating high-risk patients.

OHA does not expect the general population to be eligible for vaccination until sometime during the spring, and herd immunity and a return to pre-pandemic life may not happen until early summer or later.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been found to be about 95% effective in preventing the COVID-19 disease. In clinical trials, most people have experienced mild to moderate short-term side effects such as skin irritation at the injection site, a mild fever, muscle pain or fatigue.

Because of those side effects and concerns about the relatively fast development of the vaccine, people have expressed a reluctance to take it – especially in the near term.

"Nationwide, they have done a lot of polling and about 60% said they would get it and about 40% said they won't," commented Vicky Ryan, Crook County's emergency preparedness coordinator.

To ease public concern about the vaccine as it becomes more widely available, the Crook County Health Department will join other public health officials in providing information about it.

"We are already starting to formulate some communications that we will be posting on our website and on social media," Ryan said. "We are trying to get ahead of our general population vaccination with some of our communication."

She added that hesitancy should also diminish as more and more people receive the vaccine and avoid any major side effects.

Meanwhile, as vaccinations begin, health officials are urging everybody to continue wearing masks, social distancing and washing hands. Sluka said that approval of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are "an exciting step in our fight against COVID-19 and our quest to return to a more normal way of life," but he stresses "we are not out of the woods yet."

"We continue to see high daily positive case counts in our three counties and our numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 patients also remains high," he said. "We need your help … in order to give the vaccine a chance to bring our numbers down in a meaningful way."

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