Gov. Kate Brown sought Friday to give assurances that the state is committed to getting all Oregonians vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a prioritization strategy that’s under development and will likely take months to fully execute.
Brown underscored the importance of successfully distributing doses while simultaneously maintaining precautions like masking in public, calling it the “vaccine campaign of our lifetimes.”
The governor’s briefing with reporters came as Oregon is about to receive the first shipments of vaccine doses, with a total of 147,000 doses expected to arrive by month’s end.
“We can begin allocating vaccines to those locations within hours or days of receiving them,” said Brown, who estimates that 100,000 Oregonians will receive their first vaccine doses by the end of 2020.
She said Oregon has been assured by the federal government that it will eventually get enough doses to inoculate all eligible Oregonians, and that those doses are being distributed to states on a per-capita basis. But she said the federal government has made no commitment to Oregon of future shipments beyond those coming this month.
Brown used the briefing to assure Oregonians that the state has a strategy for distributing additional vaccination doses to various classes of people until everyone in the state has had a chance to be inoculated against COVID-19.
“We have a proven, efficient and reliable system for distributing vaccines through a broad network,” she said. “We have the policies and programs in place to vaccinate all Oregonians and we’re pulling every single one of those levers.”
Oregon Health Authority director Patrick Allen told reporters that it wasn’t possible to say how long it would take to administer vaccines to all Oregonians, due in part to uncertainties about how soon drugmakers and the federal government could deliver the necessary two doses apiece needed to vaccinate everyone.
“We’re going to need to vaccinate 10,000 Oregonians a day, and it will take most of the year to do that,” Brown said, estimating a pace the vaccines would need to be administered to achieve community-wide immunity.
Distributing vaccines across the state will be difficult. Brown said the state has already set up a network of cold-chain distribution and storage for the Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be stored at -94 degrees Fahrenheit.
The vaccines will first be sent to hospitals in the opening phase of the vaccine rollout. Front-line medical workers — nurses, physicians and medical techs dealing directly with coronavirus patients — will be the first in line to be vaccinated in Oregon.
The state will also prioritize people living in nursing homes and other care facilities. Brown said the distribution order also will focus on outpatient medical facilities, behavioral health, people with disabilities
Brown emphasized that Oregon is including non-medical hospital staff like janitors and food service workers in this first wave. She hopes doing so will help rectify some of the inequities that the pandemic has exposed.
”We think this step will also help slow community spread, especially among communities of color, who compromise a disproportionate share of the workforce among non-medical staff in hospitals and in our nursing homes,” Brown said.
After health-care workers and patients have been inoculated under the opening vaccination phase, the state will begin to vaccinate essential workers outside of clinical settings. Allen said the federal government has a classification of “essential workers” that includes groups like transit workers, but the state’s criteria has yet to be worked out. The state is setting up an advisory group to help it make those decisions.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counts Oregon’s case rate as among the lowest in the country, state epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said the state’s upward trend of infections, deaths and hospitalizations “is extremely worrisome.”
By Friday, Oregon’s COVID-19 death toll reached 1,138. Oregon hospitals were treating 576 patients who had COVID-19, including 127 in intensive care units. Sidelinger said the state is adding 200 COVID-19 recovery units to facilities across the state.
He said there was good news, too: the feared post-Thanskgiving case-bump never emerged, and OHA says that data indicates that the spread of the virus is slowing in Oregon.
“Our cases are still rising on average, but there’s evidence that they aren’t rising as steeply,” he said. He praised Oregonians for limiting their travel and movement outside their homes as Thanksgiving approached.