Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said on Friday the state is attempting to hit a goal of 12,000 vaccination doses administered per day by the end of next week.
”We’re making steady progress toward achieving our goal of 12,000 vaccines administered per day,” Brown said. “This is an all hands on deck effort. OHA is working with health care providers, pharmacies and local public health partners to achieve this goal.”
So far, the largest number of Oregonians who have been vaccinated in one day was about 7,700 on Dec. 30. Fewer Oregonians were vaccinated this week than the previous week.
More than 73,000 Oregonians in the first vaccination phase “1A,” such as frontline health care workers and long-term care residents, have received the vaccine so far.
Brown said she is deploying the Oregon National Guard this upcoming week in Salem at the state fairgrounds to support a mass vaccination event with Salem Health.
“The goal is to vaccinate 250 people per hour, vaccinating thousands of Oregonians,” Brown said.
Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen said during the Friday press conference that the state is in the “middle of the pack” compared to other states when it comes to administering vaccines.
“It’s not good enough to be in the middle of the pack,” Allen said. “We need to get vaccines to every Oregonian because vaccination is the safest, most effective and most reliable way to prevent yourself and the people around you from becoming infected with COVID-19.”
Allen said that because Oregon has done a better job at containing COVID-19 spread in relation to other states, “we’re also more vulnerable to an overwhelming spike in hospitalizations and deaths if the virus takes hold and cases spin out of control. That’s why we want to vaccinate every person we can, as soon as possible, given the limited supply of vaccines we receive from the federal government.”
According to OHA, the state reported 1,755 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases Friday, bringing Oregon’s total number of cases to 122,847. OHA also reported seven new coronavirus-related deaths, bringing the state’s total number of deaths to 1,575.
Oregon is still working on prioritizing which populations will get vaccinated when. Oregon’s Vaccine Advisory Committee met for the first time Thursday; that group is working on figuring out where different populations will fall in the vaccination process.
Allen said the state plans to finish prioritizing Phase 1B, the next phase in vaccination priority, by the end of the month. Other states, like Arizona, have already begun vaccinating people in Phase 1B.
Currently, groups like frontline health care workers, long-term care residents and the other high-risk populations that fall in the first vaccination phase will be followed by early education through high school educators in phase 1B, as announced by Brown in late December.
That decision came as the governor announced a few days before Christmas that the COVID-19 metrics that were formerly mandatory for schools to reopen will now just be advisory.
The governor has set a goal of Feb. 15 for schools to return students to in-person instruction, especially elementary students.
“As this disease threatens to rob almost a full school year of classroom instruction, from many of our children, it’s absolutely vital to help our kids safely return to in-person instruction as soon as possible,” Brown said Friday.
Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill said Friday now that decision-making for reopening schools has been shifted to the local level, districts should be focusing on two major determinants: ensuring that community case counts are relatively low and being able to implement public health and safety protocols.
Both of those factors are important as most schools that meet that Feb. 15 target date will likely reopen before all teachers have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Still, Brown stated Friday that getting kids back to in-person learning is one of the state’s “biggest priorities.” She also said that all schools must still follow public health guidelines such as mask-wearing and physical distancing.
“While I’ve prioritized educators from early learning to high school to be next in line to receive the vaccine, we’ve seen across the world how schools can reopen with rigorous health protocols in place,” she said.
In prioritizing some educators for the next round of vaccinations, Brown is going against the recommendations put forth by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which advocates vaccinating people who are at high risk of getting seriously ill first.
With early education and high school educators being placed in the first group of the 1B phase of vaccination, that group now comes before populations that could potentially have higher risk factors related to COVID-19, such as people over the age of 75 and people with medical conditions.
In 2019, nationally just 16% of the percent of the population was over the age of 65. But people over 75 have made up over 80% of the deaths from COVID-19.
Along with early education and high school educators, the next vaccination phase, 1B, will include people such as essential workers whose jobs put them at risk, postsecondary educators, people over the age of 75 and people with pre-existing conditions.
It is still unclear how those groups will be prioritized and when vaccinations for them would begin.
Editor’s note: The governor’s office initially gave incorrect information for when the National Guard will begin assisting with vaccinations in Salem. The story has been corrected.