Oregon could open COVID-19 vaccine appointments to all adults by mid-summer, health officials announced Friday.
The Oregon Health Authority expects a sharp uptick in the state’s vaccine supply starting next week based on communications with suppliers and the federal government. If Oregon receives as many vaccines as advertised, the state will have enough first doses for 3.5 million people by the end of May.
“While that gives us all a reason to breathe a sigh of relief, it should also serve as a reminder that the finish line is in sight and we cannot let up,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Friday at a news briefing.
Oregon officials laid out the new vaccination eligibility timeline as follows:
- No later than March 29: adults between ages 45 and 64 with underlying health conditions, migrant farmworkers, seafood and agricultural workers, food processors, people in low-income and congregate senior housing, people experiencing homelessness, people displaced by wildfires and wildland firefighters.
- No later than May 1: adults between 16 and 44 with underlying health conditions, people in multigenerational housing, other frontline workers as defined by the CDC. Frontline workers including grocery and food service workers, U.S. Postal Service employees, transit workers, local and state government workers and journalists.
- No later than June 1: all adults between 45 and 64.
- No later than July 1: all Oregonians 16 and older.
The list of underlying conditions includes cancer, kidney disease, COPD, down syndrome, heart conditions, compromised immune systems, obesity, pregnancy, sickle cell disease and type 2 diabetes.
Oregon Health Authority chief financial officer David Baden said Oregon should soon be receiving more than 200,000 doses a week. The state would reach a point at which vaccine supply will exceed demand shortly thereafter.
“We will be looking for people to vaccinate more than people are looking for vaccine,” Baden said.
The health authority’s projections assume that manufacturers Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson all hit their production timelines and that expected doses are delivered on time, which hasn’t always been the case.
It’s unclear how many of Oregon’s projected vaccine doses would come from each provider. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have efficacy rates around 95% but require two doses and ultra-cold storage for the Pfizer doses. The one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine has a lower efficacy rate but is also easier to store.
Increased supply also does not immediately equal shots in arms. Administering all those additional vaccine doses will require Oregon clinics and pharmacies to expand their capacity. The Oregon Health Authority estimates the state’s mass-vaccination sites can reasonably administer about three times as many doses as they are currently.
“The biggest limiter is supply,” Baden said. “And as supply goes up, we feel pretty confident that these avenues can increase and that we will be ready when more doses arrive to get them into arms.”
At a pace of 16,000 vaccine doses administered daily, Oregon could reach herd immunity by the end of the calendar year. At that point, COVID-19 won’t spread as easily and certain social restrictions can likely loosen.
That pace would theoretically speed up with more vaccines available and a greater capacity to distribute them. Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen said at a press conference Friday he expects first doses could be administered to everyone who wants them by August or September.
Oregon Health Authority Public Health Director Rachael Banks said the state’s timeline “really focuses on us being able to target resources to those who have had the greatest COVID burden.”
The health authority last week reported racial disparities in vaccine distribution. People who identify as Latino or Hispanic, for example, accounted for only 5% of total vaccinations, despite making up more than one-quarter of Oregon’s confirmed caseload. White people, on the other hand, had received nearly 75% of vaccinations; they make up less than half of Oregon’s cases.
The state is still working through a backlog of seniors waiting for inoculation. Vaccine supply has fallen short of demand thus far, and many seniors have reported difficulty registering for appointments. Among them is Mary Johnson, 71, a retired teacher living in Southwest Portland.
Johnson said she’s not a risk-taker, but she is concerned about dying from COVID-19 at her age. “I wear my mask everywhere and I order my groceries online. The few times I see my grandson I’m on the back porch with a mask,” she said.
Johnson tried twice this week — on Monday and again on Thursday — to book her own vaccine appointment online without luck. The sign-up system kept timing out, an experience that aligns with reports from other seniors. People made more than 400,000 attempts Thursday to make appointments at two Portland metro area mass-vaccination sites run by Legacy Health, Oregon Health & Science University, Providence Health & Services and Kaiser Permanente.
”I don’t know one person my age that’s landed their own appointment,” Johnson said.
Technology troubles and frustration appear to be driving even greater numbers of people in the metro area to overwhelmed websites, as multiple friends and family members attempt to score an appointment for a single older person. This raises questions about whether online registration systems will be able to handle the load when vaccines open to the broader public.
A friend of Johnson’s who works in IT was able to schedule an appointment for her at the drive-thru vaccination clinic at the Portland International Airport.
“Everything about it is chance, so if you’re going to roll the dice, you might as well have as many people rolling the dice as you can,” Johnson said.
She wants the governor to delay opening up eligibility to new groups for now so that people 70 and older have better odds of scoring an appointment. “She doesn’t get it, because she’s never had to make her own appointment,” Johnson said.
The Oregon Convention Center and Portland airport mass-vaccination sites will change their registration processes starting Monday in an effort to ease the traffic jam. The Oregon Health Authority is asking people who haven’t registered to do so at getvaccinated.oregon.gov. Eligible vaccine recipients will be notified when an appointment is available.
This change will not affect people who already have vaccine appointments at these two sites.
As of Friday, Oregon had administered first doses to 14% of the population. It had fully vaccinated 7.2% of the population.
Oregon has reported more than 154,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of late Thursday. At least 2,206 Oregonians have died from the disease.
Meanwhile, Republican state lawmakers in Oregon have staged a boycott of the legislative session. The Senate Republican caucus sent a letter to the governor demanding the reopening of schools and urging Oregon to increase its focus on vaccinating seniors. It’s unclear whether the timeline announced Friday will sway lawmakers to end the walkout.
“I expect elected officials, regardless of their party affiliation, to show up and do their work,” Brown said in response Friday.