Oregon’s COVID-19 pharmacy vaccination program is ramping up, with commercial outlets across the state receiving new shipments to administer.
Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen said Friday that over 127 pharmacies — including Walgreens, Costco, Albertsons-Safeway and Health Mart-affiliated retailers — had each received 100 doses of the vaccine that morning. Those pharmacies will start taking appointments soon.
The pharmacies are in 27 of Oregon’s 36 counties. The locations were chosen using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 vulnerability index, which helps identify communities of people who are at high risk of contracting and dying from the disease. It factors in social vulnerability like poverty and housing insecurity.
The news comes as OHA officials announced that the state’s COVID-19 vaccination program has administered first-dose vaccines to over 466,000 Oregonians as of Friday morning. That’s almost 10% of the state, a big milestone.
There is currently no list available of all pharmacies taking appointments. People will need to call their local pharmacies, use the Google tool “Get Vaccinated Oregon” to register for alerts (see how here), or reach out to local public health authorities.
Stephen Certo, Director of Pharmacy Operations at Albertsons-Safety for Oregon and Washington said up to 122 stores in Oregon and Southwest Washington. Over a hundred of those stores will be in Oregon.
Albertsons-Safeway will set up an online tool people can use to book COVID-19 vaccinations at local pharmacies. Safeway’s is here, and Albertson’s is here. Users can input their zip code and check availability at pharmacies near them.
That tool can also be used to make appointments. The tool will screen potential recipients for eligibility and automatically schedule them. The next day — via their preferred method of communication — they will receive confirmation of their appointment, and the following day (two days after they initially registered) they will also be notified of a date to receive the second dose.
”The system automatically makes the appointment for a second dose 28 days later,” Certo said. “We’re really excited about that.”
Oregonians have frequently asked how they will know when it is time to receive their second dose.
People without internet access can call their local Albertsons or Safeway to schedule an appointment. If that pharmacy is not taking appointments, staff will assist people in finding another location that has the vaccine in stock. Right now, only a few appointments will be available, and once the appointments are full, the registration tool will automatically shut down. This week is a trial run for the federal pharmacy program. But Certo anticipates that it won’t be long before the program is scaled up. At that point, people will be able to book their appointments several weeks in advance.
Community Health Clinics to receive doses
Oregon’s Federally Qualified Healthcare Centers, or FQHCs, are slated to receive 6,000 weekly doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from the federal government. FQHCs provide free or low-cost coverage to people without health insurance, and are often located in historically underserved communities.
OHA did not say what day they expect to begin receiving these doses.
Storms and closures
Winter storms closed vaccination sites in the greater Portland metro area Friday through Sunday, requiring thousands of people to reschedule. People who were set to be vaccinated at Oregon Health & Science University’s Portland International Airport drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination site, the OHSU site on its Marquam Hill campus, and the mass vaccination clinic at the Oregon Convention Center were all cancelled for Friday. OHSU has also closed the Portland airport clinic and Marquam Hill clinic Saturday and Sunday.
Wendy Watson, chief operating officer at Kaiser Permanente Northwest, and Dr. Mary Giswold, associate medical director at Kaiser, provided updates for those whose appointments were cancelled at the Portland area’s mass vaccination centers. Those centers are jointly run by the four largest health care organizations in Oregon: Kaiser, Legacy, OHSU and Providence, under the banner of “All4Oregon.”
If your appointment was cancelled, you do not need to reach out to reschedule. Watson said. Those who need to reschedule will be contacted by All4Oregon, either via phone, email or through their MyHealth account. They will be given priority as appointments are being scheduled.
Vaccinations speed up, open up, call lines clear up
Starting Monday, people aged 75-79 will become eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. They are the second group of high-risk seniors to be made eligible, joining those 80 and over.. OHA’s Allen acknowledged that many people 80 and older were unable to make appointments in this first week of eligibility, and were frustrated. Still, he said, the state is on track to give first doses to 75% of those over the age of 65 by the beginning of April, and possibly sooner.
Oregon’s vaccination plan is on track to meet its goals, and wait times are almost non-existent on the 211info COVID-19 hotline, officials said. That’s a big change from a week earlier, when wait times could be hours long. Dan Harmon, CEO of 211info, said with the 30 National Guard troops that Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has deployed to help man the lines, wait times have plummeted.
Oregon is vaccinating an average of 17,741 people per day, according to OHA data. That’s more doses than Oregon receives in a week. Now that federally qualified health care centers are set to receive doses, the number of vaccine doses Oregon expects to receive per week has risen to 87,000.
Allen set a goal of eventually reaching 25,000 vaccinations per day. Oregon currently does not receive enough supply to reach that goal, but Allen said he is confident that vaccination programs have the staffing to do so. At that rate, Allen said, Oregon could reach herd immunity by August. Already, 10% of people in the state have received their first dose.
Even if you’re vaccinated, you should still remain cautious.
First infections of vaccinated Oregonians
As of Friday morning, Oregon has identified 4 people who received their full course of vaccinations, but still became infected with COVID-19. The vaccines currently on the market are about 95% effective at preventing COVID-19, but it isn’t uncommon for mild or asymptomatic infections to occur.
All four of the reinfections in Oregon are asymptomatic or mild.
“Vaccines keep you from getting seriously ill, even if you don’t get sick,” he said.
Sidelinger said these breakthrough cases underscore the importance of continuing to follow pandemic safety measures like wearing masks and socially distancing even after receiving the vaccine. Until enough vaccinations have been administered to achieve herd immunity — something that is still months away — breakthrough cases will continue to happen.
These cases could be normal, but state epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger was cautious. A new variant of COVID-19 from South Africa appears to be resistant to some vaccines. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines currently used in Oregon are less effective against it than they are against other variants. It isn’t known if these cases are related to any of the new more-infectious variants, but the Oregon Health Authority is working to get samples from infected patients, and plans to send them off to the lab for genetic testing.