OPINION: Oregon's vaccination program is a solid team effort
The sad fact is that the 1918-19 pandemic came and went with little learning curve for governments and the community. That disaster wrought an estimated 50 million deaths worldwide and 675,000 in the United States, leaving us with no road map for how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic.
While a lot of things have been bleak for this past one-year-plus, creativity, teamwork and ingenuity have resulted in a lot of Oregonians getting vaccinated. According to the Washington Post's daily tracker, 26% of Oregonians have received at least one dose, as of Wednesday, April 21, and about 40% have been fully vaccinated. That mirrors, fairly closely, the national vaccination rates.
Oregonians — individuals, organizations and the government — have made it up as they've gone along.
And while not flawless, the results have been impressive.
Take the mass vaccination effort at Portland International Airport. As reported recently by the Portland Tribune, that effort has been a partnership by Oregon Health & Science University (which has the vaccine and the expertise), the Port of Portland (which had an unused economy parking lot) and the Red Cross (which has the volunteers). The result: more than 500 volunteers per day on 22 square acres of the airport's Red Lot, taking in around 5,200 cars per day, and delivering — as of the time of reporting — more than 85,000 doses of vaccine.
Reports from the mass vaccination effort at the Oregon Convention Center have been equally laudable. That's an effort by a coalition of area hospitals.
In March, OHSU accidentally alerted about 11,000 people that they were eligible for the vaccine, when they actually weren't. OHSU's response? That was our mistake, come on in, we won't penalize anyone because of our error.
Wow. That's the kind of just-get-it-done attitude that's getting "jabs" into arms.
The outreach has not been flawless. As reported recently by The Oregonian/Oregonlive, the vaccination rate for white residents in Oregon sat at 26% earlier this month, compared to 22% for Black residents. And while 13% of Oregonians identify as Hispanic or Latino, but just 6% of the people who'd been vaccinated in early April were Latino. That gap is particularly troubling given that Latinos account for more than a third of state's COVID-19 cases.
The temporary halt to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine isn't helping; that one-and-done vaccine, as opposed to the two-shot variety from Pfizer and Moderna, is particularly attractive to shift-workers, farm workers, single parents, and people in underserved communities. A temporary halt was put on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after six cases of blood clots were discovered; Americans have received an estimated 6.8 million doses of that company's vaccine.
Even after that hiccup is resolved, the state, the governor and the Oregon Health Authority need to get those numbers trending in the right direction.
Many Oregonians also complain about a confusing process for getting their shots. But in some instances, that's been caused by too many good options. People can line up for their "jabs" with counties, pharmacies, hospitals, OHSU and so many other providers. That number will only increase in the coming weeks.
In general, Oregonians can see a light at the end of this very long pandemic tunnel, and the cause of that light is the vaccination efforts. And by a willingness of a large sector of our community to ignore internet conspiracy theories, social media scams and a sector of the political arena that has chosen to politicize the vaccine, the same way that masks and social distancing have been politicized. As we reported at the PDX mass vaccination site, the mood was joyous, the energy high, the gratitude apparent.
Not perfect, for sure. But trending well.
Oregonians will be looking back at the pandemic within this calendar year. And everyone who's made that happen — elected officials, bureaucrats, the public health community, non-governmental groups and state residents — should take a bow.
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