Demand for vaccines slows as state makes a big push to reach its 70% vaccination goal.

COURTESY PHOTO: OHSU - Oregon is about 65,000 people short of reaching its COVID-19 vaccination goal. The state could reopen if 70% of the population gets a dose.Oregon needs just over 65,000 more people to get their first COVID-19 vaccination shot for the state to lift most restrictions statewide.

"We are incredibly close to achieving a 70% statewide adult vaccination rate, bringing us closer to returning to a sense of normalcy," Gov. Kate Brown said in a statement Tuesday, June 15.

The Oregon Health Authority said 65,484 more shots were needed as of mid-day to pass 70% of eligible adult residents having received one shot. OHA reported it was averaging 13,484 shots per day, which includes each shot of the two-shot Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, as well as the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The daily totals are down sharply from April, when the state topped 50,000 shots on its biggest vaccination days.

Demand for vaccinations has slowed in the past month, as those eager to be vaccinated against the virus have been served. What's left is residents for whom vaccination is inconvenient or who have doubts about getting the shots.

ocbOregon Republicans have been critical of Brown's approach throughout most of the pandemic, despite the state's low infection and death rates compared to most of the rest of the nation. Critics say restrictions have unnecessarily hamstrung the Oregon economy as other states had fewer or sometimes no restrictions. Now Brown is being cast as out of step even with Democratic governors in California and Washington.

House Minority Leader Christine Drazan, R-Canby, released a public letter to Brown on Tuesday calling for her to follow the example of California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom opened the state to most activities on Tuesday. "Oregon does not need to be the most restrictive state on the West Coast, or one of the last states to reopen nationwide," Drazan wrote.

Citing vaccines, improved medical treatment for infections, and the "natural immunity" of those who contracted COVID-19 and survived, Drazan said there were enough safeguards to lift restrictions immediately.

"If we include Oregonians with natural immunity, then we are well above the 70 percent threshold to reopen the state," Drazan wrote. "Oregonians have been through enough. They do not need to wait another day."

Counties still have high risks

The range of restrictions differs from county to county in Oregon as Brown has taken steps to remove limits in areas that have put at least one shot into the arms of 65% of eligible adult residents.

Eight counties have met the standard and were moved to the least restrictive lower risk level, regardless of infection rates. Washington, Benton, Hood River, Multnomah, Lincoln, Deschutes, Lane and Clackamas counties are past the 65% mark. Polk County is less than 1 percentage point away from joining the group as soon as OHA confirms it has met the qualifications.

Two counties in the northwest could still see limits lifted before the whole state. Clatsop and Tillamook are over 62% and if they keep up the same rate of vaccination could move to lower level next week.

For many counties the statewide 70% mark is likely their only path out of the restrictions on restaurants, events, shops and socializing that come with high risk levels. There are nine counties at what is the state's top risk status. Marion, Jefferson and Linn have given at least one shot to more than half their population. Umatilla and Malheur are below 40%. Columbia, Crook, Douglas and Klamath are in between.

'Just as dangerous'

While the end of June seems a likely time frame to reach 70% with at least one vaccine shot, the main goal has been to reach President Joe Biden's hope for a normalization of life by the July 4 holiday.

Oregon Health Authority officials and vaccination partners are making a more assertive effort to get into the community and offer shots at workplaces, shops, schools and shopping areas.

The state is also trying to appeal to the wallets of those who haven't yet stepped up to get inoculated. Oregon will hold a drawing on June 28 in which one vaccinated resident will win $1 million. One resident from each of the 36 counties will receive $10,000. Vaccines are now available to all those age 12 and older. Though they are not part of the 70% adult goal announced earlier, the state will give out five $100,000 Oregon College Savings Plan scholarships to vaccinated youth.

OHA officials have said the state is now experiencing two different pandemics, one that can affect the health of vaccinated people only moderately at best. For the unvaccinated, the virus that has killed nearly 600,000 Americans is still spreading to the unprotected.

"If you are not vaccinated, COVID-19 remains just as dangerous as before," Brown said.

Until the 70% mark is hit, Brown will continue to announce revised COVID-19 county risk levels each week. The current list goes into effect June 18 to 24. The next revisions will be announced June 22.

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