The arrival of the first batches of COVID-19 vaccines in Oregon in mid-December signaled hope on the horizon, but more than a month later, confusion among the general public was still prevalent.
As of Jan. 20, the Oregon Health Authority reported the state was surpassing a statewide goal of vaccinating 12,000 people a day during the first phases of the state's vaccine rollout, but a startling announcement from the federal government threw a wrench into the state's plans.
On Jan. 14, state governors learned there was no federal stockpile of vaccine doses, meaning states like Oregon wouldn't be receiving extra doses as planned. Frontline health care workers and elderly residents in long-term care facilities were prioritized to receive the shot first, but Oregonians in other eligible groups still weren't clear on where or when to seek the vaccine.
"To further expedite vaccinations, just a few days ago we heard from U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar that the federal government would be releasing its entire supply of COVID-19 vaccines to states," Gov. Kate Brown reported on Jan. 15. "With this news, we announced plans to begin administering vaccines to Oregonians 65 and older, as well as educators and child care providers, beginning Jan. 23. But yesterday we received the disturbing news that this federal reserve of vaccines does not actually exist."
Shortly afterward, the state announced teachers would be prioritized to receive the vaccines before seniors, causing a two-week delay in the timeline for getting residents over the age of 80 vaccinated.
Gov. Brown said having a lower vaccine supply than anticipated forced "difficult choices."
"Beginning on Feb. 8, we will start vaccinating our most vulnerable seniors, those age 80 years and older," Brown stated in a news release. "Our experience shows that this group has among the highest mortality rates."
Oregon Health & Science University, one of the region's largest health care networks, told patients in early January that it expects the general public to be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine sometime in spring, but the Oregon Health Authority has yet to identify a timeline.
"The truth is, we don't know exactly when vaccinations will open up to the general public," Jonathan Modie, lead communications officer for the Oregon Health Authority, said Jan. 12. "It could be as early as spring or well into the fall. So we continue to encourage people, as they wait their turn for the vaccine, to continue safety measures to protect their neighbors, families and themselves: Wear a mask, continue social distancing, avoid gatherings and travel, wash your hands frequently and stay home if you're sick."
OHSU joined with Kaiser, Legacy and Providence health care providers to establish appointment-only vaccine sites at the Oregon Convention Center and Hillsboro Stadium to help with the rollout.
By Jan. 20, OHSU had received 43,175 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and administered more than 28,000 of them.
The following day, an invitation-only, drive-thru, large-scale vaccination site was launched at the Portland International Airport's red economy parking lot for members of the Service Employees International Union, SEIU 503, and independent home health care workers as well as people with disabilities and their caregivers. The site is expected to be available for school district employees and residents older than 80 "under the state's direction and as vaccine supply allows," an OHSU spokesperson said. More vaccinations sites are also expected in the following weeks.
"In the coming weeks, OHSU will convert its mobile testing vans to mobile vaccination vans and deploy them statewide to communities lacking easy access as more vaccine becomes available," said Tamara Hargens-Bradley, a communications director for OHSU. Hargens-Bradley said a patient-facing clinic on OHSU's Portland campus is also expected to be established.
For more information on the sequencing of the vaccine rollout, visit Oregon's vaccine webpage.
December-January: Health care workers, residents of long-term care facilities and first responders
Jan. 25: Teachers and school staff
Feb. 8: Vulnerable seniors, age 80 and older
Next phases: Residents 75 and older, followed by those 70 and up, followed by a later phase for those 65 and older.
Subsequent phases will be announced for those who are essential workers, those with underlying conditions and the state's prison and jail populations.
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