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St. Charles expects first COVID-19 vaccine doses Thursday; details outlined

(Update: Adding video, details)

Caregivers not required, but encouraged to receive vaccinations

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Nearly 1,000 of St. Charles Health System’s 4,500 caregivers will get their first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine starting next week and a second dose three weeks later, officials said Tuesday as they outlined the priorities and the logistics involved.

As with other areas, the priorities will focus on those who are key to maintain hospital capacity and/or are in direct contact with COVID-19 patients, from doctors and nurses to other medical and support staff such as meal delivery and housekeeping, officials said Tuesday.

The 975 doses are due to arrive Thursday and will be given starting next Monday under priorities laid out by the CDC and Oregon Health Authority, Dr. Cynthia Maree, infectious disease specialist at St. Charles Bend, told reporters at a briefing Tuesday afternoon.

Because more doses are expected soon, the 975 in the initial shipment will go to that number of caregivers, in what’s called the “first wave” of vaccinations. A second dose will be needed in three weeks. For logistical reasons, all of the vaccinations will take place at St. Charles, with some workers traveling from other hospitals to Bend to get them.

The first, Pfizer vaccine requires -70 degree ultra-cold storage, so St. Charles is seeking a second freezer from the Oregon Health Authority. The vaccine thaws for 2-3 hours and then must be used within 72 hours.

The “Phase 1A” vaccinations as laid out by CDC guidelines include health care workers and patients and staff at long-term care facilities. Under Oregon Health Authority priorities, St. Charles will focus on employees who are critical to maintaining hospital capacity and a variety of caregivers in direct contact with COVID-19 patients, from doctors and nurses to therapists, those who deliver meals and “environmental services” (housekeepers/cleaning staff).

St. Charles officials displayed a table of the caregivers and providers expected to get the initial COVID-19 vaccine doses in coming days

The next phase of vaccinations will be directed to “essential workers” – not fully defined as of yet, but likely to extend from police and firefighters to food and agricultural workers. After that comes Phase 1C, with vaccinations for adults with high-risk medical conditions and seniors over 65.

At this point, officials expect the vaccines to be available to the general public by late spring or early summer.

St. Charles has seen a total of 350 COVID-19 patients this year, said Dr. Jeff Absalon, chief physician executive. That includes 32 in the hospital as of Tuesday morning, four in the ICU, three on ventilators.

“Our hospital is quite full,” Absalon said. “In fact, as of a few hours ago, our ICU was full.”

There are nearly 1,400 people from the four hospitals (and more than 200 outside providers) that are included in the high-priority “first wave” of vaccinations, if they are willing to get the shots – so it will take the next shipment, possibly of the Moderna vaccine (which doesn’t need ultra-cold storage and frees up the logistics) to cover that initial group's first doses.

Maree said that could take two weeks or longer, and it could take two months to provide the two doses of vaccines to everyone in area health care facilities.

A survey found more than half of St. Charles caregivers definitely want to be vaccinated, she said, and then there’s “a group in the middle still unsure, trying to decide,” and they will be the focus of education and information. Then there’s the 10-15 percent who are definitely not interested in getting the vaccine, for a variety of concerns and reasons.

She said it’s much like the “general concern among people in the community – not enough is known, it hasn’t been out there long enough.” So the message, she said, will be that the “very safe technology” is not new. Still, some don’t want or believe in vaccines, and they also decline flu shots – “a harder group of people to reach,” Maree said.

However, officials noted that more than 90 percent of the 800 medical staff said in the survey that they intend to get the vaccine – from physicians to nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

The vaccinated caregivers also will be asked to log symptoms or other issues using V-Safe, an after-vaccination health-checker that also will remind them when the second dose is due.

"Adjustments to the future vaccinations will be able to be made, based on the data they are gathering," Maree said.

A community work group that has been working on testing issues is extending to vaccine planning, including an incident command system working out the logistics. Meetings over the next few days will look at how best to allocate the vaccines, what order the various clinics (still being approved by the Oregon Health Authority) and providers will go in.

While the Phase 1B “essential workers” have not been defined as of yet, Dr. George Conway, Deschutes County Health Services director, was asked if teachers and school employees will be in that category, as a higher priority, to get schools open again. He called that “a very good question. It will be a consideration.”

Asked whether caregivers who decline the vaccine might be limited in their duties involving COVID-19 patients, Maree said they “haven’t got to the point where we’re addressing that concern” as of yet.

And even after they are vaccinated, the hospital staff will be required to wear the appropriate protective equipment, as they have up until now, since the vaccine doesn’t immediately eliminate the threat of exposure.

Still, Absalon said, "I just want to share that we're excited about this next phase -- the prospect of having one, potentially two vaccines that are quite effective and very safe is really exciting, and I think the start of our steps to eventually getting to the end of this pandemic."

But with over 3,000 cases so far in Deschutes County, Conway stressed, “This is going to be a long haul. By the time we get everyone immunized, it’s likely to be spring, possibly summer.”

Until then, he said, the steps outlined since the start of the pandemic are vitally important: “You don’t want to be the person who gets COVID just before they get the vaccine.”

(The video of the news conference is posted on St. Charles' Facebook page.)

Earlier item:

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- St. Charles Health System is due to get its first shipment of 975 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday and will use state guidance to decide who gets them first, President and CEO Joe Sluka said Tuesday.

With news late Friday that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use," we are sure you are wondering what this means for us in Central Oregon," Sluka said in an update to the community.  

Sluka added that "while information about the vaccine and plans for distribution is evolving rapidly," he provided where things stand, as of Tuesday:

  • St. Charles is set to receive its first shipment of 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Thursday, Dec. 17.
  • The Oregon Health Authority has outlined a phased approach to vaccination, meaning health care workers, long-term care facility residents and emergency responders will be first on the list.
  • The state is working with commercial pharmacies to distribute the vaccine to long-term care facilities, which means St. Charles is not responsible for this portion of the vaccine distribution.
  • We are working on plans to administer the vaccine to St. Charles caregivers based on the Oregon Health Authority’s guidance for prioritization – this means those staff members who are critical for maintaining hospital capacity to serve the greatest number of patients and who have the most direct exposure to COVID-19 will be given the vaccine first.
  • St. Charles caregivers are not required to take the vaccine, but we are encouraging them to do so.
  • All of our staff will be required to continue masking and distancing until we achieve a high rate of vaccination throughout the general public.
  • We do not yet know when we will have enough vaccine supply in Central Oregon to begin vaccinating high-risk patients, but anticipate it could be several months.

For an inside look at how St. Charles has been preparing to receive and store the first vaccine doses at required ultra-cold temperatures, Sluka shared this video:

"The approval of the Pfizer vaccine – and the likely approval of the Moderna vaccine this week – is such an exciting step in our fight against COVID-19 and our quest to return to a more normal way of life," Sluka wrote.

"But we are not out of the woods yet," he added. "We continue to see high daily positive case counts in our three counties and our numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 patients also remains high." (The hospital reported 32 COVID-19 patients as of Tuesday, four of whom were in the ICU, three on ventilators.)  

"We need your help to continue distancing, masking and hand washing in order to give the vaccine a chance to bring our numbers down in a meaningful way," the hospital official wrote.  

"Thank you, again, for hanging in there throughout these difficult months," Sluka said. "Your support continues to mean so much to our frontline health care heroes."

Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.



        1. If you want to shoot yourself in the foot, be my guest. We’re all adults and can decide for ourselves. If your turn comes up and you turn it down, let me know and I’ll take yours.

        2. “Fed Up” – why don’t you trust it? Your president is taking credit for it’s creation. Don’t you trust him, like a good follower should?

      1. “Even though the President himself was infected and he has likely antibodies that likely would be protective, we’re not sure how long that protection lasts,”

        So, according to Fauci, naturally occurring antibodies may not last.
        If that is the case then vaccine induced antibodies may not last either, cuz you know….science.

  1. I know this is an unpopular opinion but I don’t understand why a 99 year old alzheimer’s patient who is barely coherent and on death’s bed gets the vaccine BEFORE a high risk mother or father with young children. I know it sounds heartless but if we are looking for fairness right now we need to examine all the criteria.

    No I am not high risk and I do not have young kids so my opinion is not based out of fear for myself. I am not even sure i am going to get the vaccine.

    I guess the order of things fits the narrative.

    1. You’re right it sounds heartless. Not every one in an extended care facility is on death’s door. Some are there for extended rehab following a serious injury or other condition. Many of them still live full lives.

      1. Yeah except for I’m not talking about them. By all means they should be vaccinated. But we’re talking about parents that have kids that have very full lives yet that are being put on hold for 3 to 5 months.. They need to reevaluate who gets vaccinated first. Or at least who gets offered a vaccine first

          1. no not at all. They already have a death panel. Someone ( Kate Brown) already decided who gets what and when they get it. I’m simply just asking the question and stating my opinion. I am not saying it’s an easy decision at all. One of the many problems in this world right now is everyone’s idea of what’s fair. There is nothing “fair” about covid. There is nothing fair about death either for that matter. However we have to make things as equal as possible and as SENSIBLE as possible when we have the opportunity. We have to solve the problems where we can. The reality is we have a very limited amount of vaccine to start. So that means there was a “death panel” whether you like it or not D Kelly. Tough choices HAVE to be made.

            BTW, you accuse me of wanting to sit on a “death panel”? What do you call essential workers versus non essential workers D Kelly? How is that not a death panel also?

            In my opinion the vaccines should go in this order:

            1. Hospital workers including all staff that is in close contact with covid patients
            2. High at risk individuals that are supporting families along with themselves
            3. Front line workers like police, fireman………..
            4. Teachers and school staff
            5. Everyone else

            Again, its just my opinion. I am not promoting natural selection or anything silly like that. I am asking for emotion to be taking out of it and use science, data and logic

                1. That’s because they’re the ones making up a huge percentage of the hospitalized cases. The most effective way to get the number of occupied ICU beds down is to immunize this population. That’ll give the medical people some breathing room.

        1. You are most definitely one of those people that are totally ok with the deaths primarily being in the 70+ age group because it doesn’t affect you yet. YET. People are not expendable. Those highest at risk get it first and it goes down from there. Not those that whine the most get it first.

    2. Because “all lives matter”… remember?
      Aren’t you one of the local R’s that thought “at risk” meant elderly or immunocompromised? Do you think that we are all at risk now? What changed your mind?

      1. If you are referring to me than the answer is no on just about everything you said.

        If “R” means republican than that does not refer to me, I am a libertarian.

        I have not changed my mind about who is considered at risk. You have me confused with someone else

    3. Jabroni, You might need to keep your fear of the virus in perspective. I am not sure by what you mean as high risk but for the average age person with reasonable good health they will not die from the virus but will experience flu like symptoms fever, headache, lethargy and other flu like symptoms. 99% of you will not die and will recover at home in a couple of weeks. I have known over ten people with it and everyone of them has recovered at home. To give the vaccines to the old, frail and anyone with health issues makes sense to me.

      1. Treeguy: Please show me where I said anything about fearing the virus? I never said that at all. My point was that there are people at high risk that should get the virus sooner if they want it.

        Just because you know 10 people that have recovered does not qualify as scientific data btw. I also know lots of people who have recovered with mild symptoms. I also know people who have died and may have long term recovery ahead of them.

        I think I see the picture pretty clearly.

    4. How about thinking in a slightly different pattern. Instead of simply writing off another human being, think of that person as a petri dish for Covid-19 (since you’re thinking in a heartless fashion), lying there and waiting to get infected so that he/she can then spread it to others, including (perish the thought) those like you who, I’m sure (unlike anyone who lives in a nursing facility or retirement community with dependent living), are contributing great things for society. These choices are not as politically motivated as you think. If they were, we probably wouldn’t have bothered with the vaccine at all and let Bunker Baby continue to promote herd immunity, since he’s already been “saved.” Bottom line being the experts probably are more aware of the consequences of various actions, and I think that we should leave it up to them to determine the order in which we will be given the opportunity to be vaccinated.

  2. I don’t think you understand. The elderly in nursing homes are the number one people dying from this horrid disease. Of course they will be getting the first round of vaccine. Next will be the second in line of people dying from Covid, and so on. Be glad you aren’t an elder.

      1. We stop the spread by vaccinating the care workers going into those facilities. Those that are in long term care facilities have other major issues going on. I will just leave it at that.

  3. If this vaccine is so safe why are we being threatened to take it…….for a disease that’s so deadly yet the only way to know you have it is to be tested for it?

    1. You know nothing. You have no independent thought. You are a heartless idiot. I’m so sick of you animals yelling at-risk human beings that they should die. You’re a drag on our species.

  4. If I didn’t question my government or so called science and did as they say without question then you could say I have no independent thought……….

    if I didn’t care that millions of people have and continue to lose their jobs, homes, food, and ability to care for their families because of government shutting them down then you could say I am a heartless idiot………

    If I was rooting, protesting, burning buildings and businesses, overturning cars, throwing rocks at police then you could say I yell at at-risk human beings…………

    If all that were true then yeah, I would be a drag on our species………..

    Oh wait……were you talking about me or yourself?

  5. Barney: Has KTVZ ever thought about just shutting down the comment sections for the various articles? I come here now and then and it always seems to be generally the same folks; and most of what is posted is simple, nasty back-and-forth name calling, etc, etc, ad infinitum ad nauseum. If you don’t want to shut it down, perhaps there could be two comment sections. Keep the current one for the typical romper room stuff, but start another one where only vetted people could kindly comment from all sides of an issue. In this adult version, any name calling and “shoot yourself” kind of stuff would get you banned for life. In effect, I really would like to have a place where I could listen to thoughtful opinions on a subject, even those different from mine, so maybe I could learn something. Just a thought.

    PS: I have a feeling some of the nasty folks are going to let me have it for these comments, but I will endure them if there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

    1. We err on the side of freedom of speech, and to me and some others, a website without comments feels cold and one-way, despite all the… hassles. We are looking at something more like Disqus or Reddit that allows up/down votes and will let high-value discussions rise and … nasty trolls decline. Anything’s possible. (One system also would require a button click to see comments, so folks wouldn’t… stumble into them accidentally.)

  6. St. Charles website indicates they have 30 ICU beds in Bend and Redmond. According to this article “ The hospital reported 32 COVID-19 patients as of Tuesday, four of whom were in the ICU, three on ventilators.” The article also states “Our hospital is quite full,” Absalon said. “In fact, as of a few hours ago, our ICU was full.” So any more patients who require ICU care will go where? Who will be making the decisions who lives and who dies with ICU beds full?

  7. How come the vaccine arrives this Thursday, but it’s not going to start being administered until next Thursday? I know there are always logistical things to consider, and I could understand a couple of days, but an entire week?

    1. I was wondering the same thing. This is one of those things where time is very much of the essence. They should do what it takes to get shots in arms ASAP.

      1. Learned today Oregon has only got 5,800 doses so far, a formula based in part on population. No one is getting all they seek so far, and beyond December doses, OHA director basically saying “I’ll believe it when it’s on the loading dock.”

  8. “Our hospital is quite full,” Absalon said. “In fact, as of a few hours ago, our ICU was full.” – easy to say but how does it compare to this time last year before the dreaded virus? I seem to remember a school that had a high % of sick (flu) students that had so many out there was discussion about closing it for the week.

  9. If you’ve ever eaten at Taco Bell, don’t worry about what’s in the vaccine.
    If you’ve ever partied with me after midnight, your blood will probably kill the vaccine.
    Do you have any idea what’s in a hotdog? Don’t worry about taking the vaccine.
    “I refuse to wear a mask because there’s hardly any danger of me or my family dying” ~ says the guy who made the effort to get his concealed handgun license and carries around a big chunk of metal/kydex that jabs him in the leg every time he sits to protect him and his family in case antifa happens to attack Cracker Barrel tonight, which of course never will happen in his whole lifetime.

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