PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon has begun a pilot program that allows some federally qualified health centers to offer COVID-19 vaccinations to anyone they serve, even if that patient does not fall into any currently eligible categories.
These centers must still prioritize patients who are currently eligible under Oregon rules, but the pilot program gives health care providers for the most at-risk populations more latitude and resolves a conflict between federal and state priorities on vaccine equity.
The Oregon Health Authority says the aim is to reach populations most affected by COVID-19 quickly.
The centers, which serve vulnerable populations such as farmworkers, are petitioning Washington to do the same.
The Biden administration last month began distributing vaccine to federally qualified health centers under a program designed to get shots into the arms of the most economically and socially disadvantaged Americans — seasonal and migrant farmworkers and those Americans living in poverty, for example.
But those centers in Oregon and Washington found their hands tied because state rules on vaccine eligibility hadn’t yet expanded to migrant farmworkers, those with pre-existing conditions or other vulnerable groups and so they couldn’t give them shots.
The disconnect was “incredibly frustrating,” but the pilot program in Oregon will resolve those issues, said Lori Kelley, senior director of quality at the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic, which treats 180,000 patients a year in eastern Washington and western Oregon. About one-third of those patients are seasonal farmworkers, she said, and the clinics offer treatment regardless of ability to pay.
“They are living in a congregate setting, four to six to a room, head-to-toe and they work, live, eat and sleep in cohorts. If one person in their cohort gets sick, then they all miss work time,” she said.