Vaccine distribution remains a struggle for Forest Grove elderly
While COVID-19 vaccinations are happening, many older adults in western Washington County continue to find it difficult to get the inoculation they so desperately desire.
"We don't seem to have any plans other than these mass sites, like the Convention Center," Forest Grove resident Margaret Thompson said. "I know places like Safeway are saying you can get it, but no one can really tell you how to do it, or get you signed up.
"I feel like I'm running in circles."
Thompson, 75, whose husband Fred is 80, said getting downtown is difficult for them for a number of reasons. As a result, they've looked to places like Safeway for a local option, hoping to skip the 26-mile drive to Portland, or even further to the vaccination site at the Portland International Airport. The grocery store chain — with its partners — is advertising vaccination on their website, but sign-up availability has been virtually nonexistent from the go.
Jill McGinnis, spokesperson for Albertsons, which owns Safeway, said in a statement Friday, Feb. 19, that the Forest Grove location received and administered its 100 doses the week prior, but this past week's allotment was delayed due to inclement weather. While she said vaccinations should return to normal this week, appointments are extremely limited.
"Currently there are no appointments available on the website, but customers can go to safeway.com/covid-19 mid to late week to watch for additional appointments being populated when vaccines are received as part of our federal retail pharmacy partnership," McGinnis suggested.
Minimal local supply isn't uncommon, amid Oregon's ongoing struggle to expeditiously vaccinate its most vulnerable residents. Since receiving its first shipment this past December, the state ranks third to last for the percentage of seniors inoculated, among 31 states with comparable data.
According to a data analysis by The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, 10 states have inoculated seniors at more than double Oregon's rate.
In Oregon, first responders, healthcare workers, teachers and even prisoners have all preceded seniors in the line for the vaccine, frustrating Thompson and many other seniors.
"You don't have to be real smart to understand that the people that are dying are the elderly," said Thompson, who worked for 25 years as a nurse. She blames the governor: "I don't think Kate Brown has a clue, and I don't think that they have hired people that have the expertise that it takes to handle this kind of public health emergency. That's just my opinion."
Per the OHA's most recent figures, the state's given just over 192,000 first doses of the vaccine and 154,000 second doses. Vaccinations became available to people ages 70 and older Feb. 22 and will add 65-year-olds and older starting March 1. In the Portland area, many of those vaccines are being administered at the Oregon Convention Center or Portland International Airport.
In Washington County, the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center — like Safeway — has been advertising COVID-19 inoculation. But it, too, has been limited by a lack of vaccine.
"We're focusing on patients at this point," Virginia Garcia spokesperson Kasi Woidyla said, referring to people who already receive healthcare through the center, which serves low-income and migrant populations in Washington and Yamhill counties. "With the state seeing larger amounts of vaccine, that might mean we're able to start to vaccinate more sooner. But at this point, with what we have, we're focusing on our patients."
Woidyla said Virginia Garcia is receiving 1,100 doses per week, but with patients needing both a first and a second shot, it is rapidly going through that supply. If the state can increase its allocation, Woidyla said, it could begin providing vaccinations for the general population.
"It comes down to two things: vaccine availability and capacity of our staff," Woidyla said. "We would like to, and I think the state is hoping we can vaccinate on a larger scale at some point."
"Some point" can't come soon enough for Thompson, who continues to seek the peace of mind she's been waiting for since the pandemic began nearly a year ago.
"I really, really would like to see something happen so that people like myself and others can get the assistance that we need," Thompson said. "I don't think we're the only people in this boat."
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