COVID vaccines: the rollout begins
Vaccination teams on the Warm Springs Reservation started before Christmas, Dec. 22, and have already vaccinated 400 people. Katie Russell, community health service manager for the tribe, says they've vaccinated all medical workers and first responders and have started to vaccinate elders age 75 and older. Russell expects another 100 doses early this week.
"It's been such a relief to have something to offer people to start protecting the population instead of just hunkering down and hoping we don't get it (COVID)," says Russell. "We've had really great response to people wanting to get the vaccine."
Warm Springs gets its vaccines through the Indian Health Service, not through the state. Their tribal status as a sovereign nation gives them greater flexibility in deciding who gets vaccinated. Traditional workers, culture and tradition keepers are considered a high priority. "They're people who facilitate funerals and traditional services, drummers and people who know the traditional songs and traditional language."
The need for the vaccine is more urgent at Warm Springs because COVID has hit the tribe harder than most. According to Jefferson County Public Health Director Michael Baker, the coronavirus infection rate on the reservation is about the same as that in the rest of the county, but the death rate is higher.
Russell says the tribe has seen 18 COVID deaths out of about 6,000 people who receive services at the Indian Health Services Clinic. There have been about five deaths in the rest of Jefferson County with a population of approximately 20,000 people.
Getting the vaccine to the rest of the county involves coordinating a number of facilities. Jefferson County Public Health is working with partners at Mosaic Medical, Madras Medical, and St. Charles Madras.
So far, Jefferson County Public Health has administered 100 doses. They plan to give another 100 doses this week. "We have full clinics with overflow and standby Monday, Wednesday and Friday," says Public Health Communication Coordinator Tami Kepa'a.
Outside Warm Springs, only Phase One personnel are eligible for the vaccines. That includes health care providers, first responders, certain "medically fragile" individuals and their families. Kepa'a says the health department is preparing for priority group 1B, educators. Of 200 workers at the Deer Ridge Correctional Facility, 30 have received the vaccine.
Fifty-three of the medical staff at St. Charles Madras received vaccines at St. Charles in Bend.
Madras Medical Group has received 100 vaccines. "It took us off guard," says Practice Administrator Bob Jones. "We didn't expect any vaccines until March. We're still trying to understand the administrative protocols."
Madras Medical plans to start vaccinating health care professionals from other clinics this week, people who work at dentist offices, eye clinics, and the morgue.
So far, Mosaic Medical has focused on vaccinating their employees. Their offices have been inundated with phone calls about the vaccine. "We ask that patients refrain from calling us, as we are not scheduling or maintaining a wait list for the vaccine at this time," says Elaine Knobbs-Seasholtz, Mosaic's director of strategy and development. "We will be notifying our patients individually as they become eligible to receive the vaccine."
Rolling out the vaccine adds more work to a county health care system already stretched thin with COVID testing and contact tracing, says Kepa'a. "Then the vaccine itself has very strict temperature requirements, which requires a lot more planning and coordination and scheduling before administering."
Each vial holds 10 doses, and the doses need to be used within six hours of puncturing the vial. Patients who receive the vaccine must be monitored for reactions.
"It's much more cumbersome than a traditional vaccination clinic with seasonal influenza," says Kepa'a.
Some express reluctance taking the vaccine. Kepa'a says the acceptance rate among health care workers is 80-90%, but only 50-60% among first responders.
Back on the reservation, Russell says the tribe is getting doses into arms as quickly as possible. Smaller batches slow the process. "When we have only a few doses, it takes a lot more planning, trying to make each does count when you have only 100 doses, versus if you have 1,000 doses, and you can just line people up and give them shots," explains Russell.
"At this pace, it will take us forever. At 100-200 doses a week, it's going to take a really long time. We're hoping production and allotments will pick up in the coming weeks."
Many people want to know when they will get their turn at the vaccine.
Statewide, about 97,000 shots have been given, vaccinating 2.2% of Oregonians. It may be several months before people in the general population can get a shot.
Frequently asked questions
The Oregon Health Authority website (covidvaccine.oregon.gov) addresses most of the COVID-19 vaccine questions you're asking and probably some you haven't even thought of yet. Here are three:
Will children be vaccinated? At this point, no. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not allow for children under 16 (Pfizer) or under 18 (Moderna) to be vaccinated. In the future, COVID-19 vaccines may be approved for use among younger children.
Is the vaccine mandatory? There are no plans for the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to require the COVID-19 vaccination, but OHA strongly recommends vaccination for the safety and health of the entire community.
What about vaccine side effects? The COVID-19 vaccine can cause pain at the injection site, headache and muscle aches. These side effects appear to be more severe than with most vaccines but resolve in a day or two. While COVID-19 can be mild, it can also be very severe and even fatal.
Source: Oregon Health Authority Frequently Asked Questions and Vaccine Facts
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