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First batch of coronavirus vaccine expected in Jefferson County by mid-December

Pending approval by the Food and Drug Administration, the COVID-19 vaccine will arrive in Oregon as early as Dec. 15. Then begins the race against time, along with complex organizational challenges, to vaccinate people in Phase 1.

The first obstacle involves keeping the vaccine cold. The vaccine made by Pfizer/BioNTech must be stored at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. The St. Charles Medical Center in Bend has the only ultra-cold freezer in Central Oregon.

"We have an excellent relationship with St. Charles," says Michael Baker, Jefferson County's Public Health director. Once the vaccine moves to the counties, which have conventional refrigeration, providers must administer the shots within one week. "We can easily push the doses out to all of our partners as soon as we get them. So, it's not just going to be Public Health staff doing the vaccination, this is going to be a true Central Oregon health care system partnership."

Oregon expects to get a second batch of the Pfizer vaccine by Dec. 22, along with the first batch of vaccines made by Moderna. The Moderna version does not need ultra-cold refrigeration.

One further complication, people who get either vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna, need to get a second dose within three to four weeks. Providers will have to keep enough product on hand for the second shots, as well as providing initial injections to new patients.

Baker says in Jefferson County the vaccine itself will be free. "We've already made that determination that cost is not a barrier to anyone." Baker says some providers might charge an administrative fee. Jefferson County Public Health will provide the injections free of charge.

Most of the shots in Phase 1 will be administered at hospitals and given to health care providers, including those who work in long-term care facilities. People who live in long-term care facilities are next in line. Next will be essential workers, which include first responders, educators, and people who work in food and agriculture. Finally, the injections will go to people with high-risk medical conditions and people age 65 or older.

It will likely be months before the general population has access to the vaccine. Until then, Baker reminds people to maintain safe behavior: wear masks, stay six feet away from people not in your household, and wash your hands frequently.

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