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Despite snag, Oregon to vaccinate educators starting Jan. 25, seniors over 80 Feb. 8

Governor, others say fewer shipments than feds promised prompt delays

SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) – Gov. Kate Brown and state health officials expressed frustration Friday over the news that Oregon’s share of federal COVID-19 vaccine shipments won’t rise as expected next week and laid out revised timelines to get educators and seniors vaccinated while tackling bottlenecks that have emerged in the state system.

Brown said she is demanding answers about why promised increased dose shipments aren’t happening: “Their empty promises are really playing with people’s lives,” she said, claiming “the Trump administration pulled the rug out from under us by a cruel joke” and “forces some difficult choices.”

The governor said that along with increased vaccinations in recent days, educators and school staff will be getting vaccinations by Jan. 25, though some may begin earlier.

While not all seniors over 65 will get vaccines available as quickly as planned and earlier announced, she said the state will begin with the “most vulnerable seniors, 80 and over,” (who don't already fall into high-priority categories such as assisted living centers) being vaccinated starting on Feb. 8, as they have among the highest mortality rates.

Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen noted that the state has more than doubled vaccinations from the initial governor’s directive of 12,000 doses given a day, with 26,000 added to the vaccination tally Friday. That puts Oregon, he said, tied at 24th among the states for vaccines administered and 30th for the percentage of residents vaccinated, at 3.8%

Allen said the state first must keep its commitment to Phase 1a recipients as outlined by federal guidelines, including those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

But amid much scrutiny about a slow ramp-up and many doses sitting on shelves and waiting for use, Allen said the state has administered 53% of the doses on hand and has taken several steps to correct and improve fast data reporting, as well as prioritize “high-throughput” locations such as mass vaccination sites already in place in Salem and The Dalles; St. Charles Health System announced Friday it will move vaccinations to the Deschutes County Fairgrounds in Redmond to step up vaccination speed.

“We need to have been better prepared,” Allen acknowledged, saying the state should have known better that the system used successfully in the past for flu vaccinations “would not translate” to the “unique challenges” posed by the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, including ultra-cold storage requirements.

When educators, school staff and child care providers – a group estimated at 100,000 – begin getting vaccinated Jan. 25, if dose shipments arrive as expected, Allen said they expect to vaccinate most educators within two weeks.

Seniors will receive the vaccines in four waves, if supplies allow, starting Feb. 8 with those 80 and over, who represent nearly one-third of COVID-19 deaths, the second wave, the following week, would open to those 75 and over, followed those 70 and over and then wave 4, 65 and above in the ensuing weeks.

Asked by reporters if it was safe to reopen schools with case numbers on the rise, Brown said, “We’re watching the numbers very closely” but noted that schools around the country and world “have figured out how to get back in classrooms as safely as possible.”

Another reporter asked if urban areas were being prioritized over rural ones due to the larger population or other factors. Allen pointed out that some of the highest vaccination rates so far have been in less-populated areas, including Jefferson County.


News release:

Governor Kate Brown Provides Updates on COVID-19 in Oregon

OHA has reached goal of 12,000 vaccinations per day, Governor demands answers from federal government on news that vaccine reserve does not exist
(Salem, OR) — Governor Kate Brown held a press conference today to update Oregonians on the status of COVID-19 vaccinations in Oregon. The Governor was joined by Oregon Health Authority (OHA) Director Patrick Allen, Adjutant General Michael Stencel, and Legacy Health Chief Operating Officer Trent Green.    

"Last week, I directed OHA to speed up our efforts and reach the benchmark of 12,000 vaccinations administered per day," said Governor Brown. "On January 8, we hit that mark, and today Oregon added more than 26,000 vaccines administered to our registry. OHA has been working with health care providers, hospitals, pharmacies, local public health partners, and our National Guard to streamline the distribution process and vaccinate Oregonians more quickly.

"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. With this news, we announced plans to begin administering vaccines to Oregonians 65 and older, as well as educators and child care providers, beginning January 23. But yesterday we received the disturbing news that this federal reserve of vaccines does not actually exist.

"Let me assure you that Oregon’s priorities, and my priorities, have not changed. I remain committed to vaccinating our seniors quickly. But this latest news will unfortunately cause a two-week delay in beginning vaccinations for seniors. Additionally, being supplied less vaccines than promised forces difficult choices. Beginning on February 8, we will start vaccinating our most vulnerable seniors, those age 80 years and older. Our experience shows that this group has among the highest mortality rates.

"And, because one of my main priorities is getting our kids back to in-person instruction and protecting our educational staff to help achieve this goal, starting the week of January 25 we will begin vaccinations of our educators and school staff. In some counties, this may even start sooner." 

A copy of the Governor's prepared remarks from today's press conference is available here.

A recording of today's live-streamed press conference is available here.

More information on vaccines is available at covidvaccine.oregon.gov.


News release:

Hospitals Support Gov. Brown's Decision to Delay Vaccine Eligibility Expansion
Oregon Assn. of Hosp. and Health Systems (OAHHS) - 01/15/21 2:12 PM

Following Governor Brown’s decision to postpone the expansion of the group eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to include educators and those aged 65 and over, OAHHS President and CEO Becky Hultberg issued the following statement:

“When the federal government announced this week that the full reserve of vaccine would be released to states and that Oregon would be offering doses to educators and those aged 65+, we were supportive but skeptical that the supply would meet this massive increase in the number of Oregonians who would become eligible.

Now we all have learned that there will be no increase in the number of vaccine doses delivered to Oregon. We support Governor Brown’s decision to delay the expansion until we can be sure that the doses are in hand to meet this demand.

It is unfortunate that the news on Monday set unrealistic expectations about the available supply of vaccine.

Until more vaccine is delivered, Oregon’s hospitals will continue their work to administer the vaccine to as many members of the Phase 1a group as possible. Many of our hospitals have scheduled large scale vaccination events to continue their progress with the Phase 1a cohort.

From the beginning, the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been unpredictable. At the 11th hour, hospitals shouldered a huge part of the burden for distribution of the doses, with little outside support. The fact that the playing field keeps changing makes this work even more difficult in the midst of a pandemic, as our overburdened staffs take care of a surge of patients. 

When the COVID-19 vaccines became available, the state of Oregon directed hospitals to administer the first doses to their frontline caregivers and others with patient contact. Many of our hospitals have finished this step. Then in early January hospitals were asked to expand their reach to vaccinate the rest of Phase 1a, and our facilities have leaned into this work.

We are grateful to all of the Oregonians who have worked so hard to help bring us through the pandemic, especially our frontline health care workers. This is a team effort, and Oregon’s hospitals will continue to do whatever it takes to help us beat COVID-19.”

                                                                                                   ###

About OAHHS: Founded in 1934, OAHHS is a statewide, nonprofit trade association that works closely with local and national government leaders, business and citizen coalitions, and other professional health care organizations to enhance and promote community health and to continue improving Oregon’s innovative health care delivery system.

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Barney Lerten

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