Oregon speeds up COVID vaccine timeline to meet Biden’s May 1 target

By Bradley W. Parks (OPB)
Bend, Ore. March 19, 2021 6 p.m. Updated: March 19, 2021 8:20 p.m.

All adults should be eligible to receive a COVID-19 shot by May 1. Oregon will also allow individual counties to move through the timeline faster if they can.

Oregon will speed up its COVID-19 vaccination timeline to make all adult residents 16 years and older eligible for a shot by May 1, the governor announced Friday. That’s the date President Joe Biden said he wants all American adults to be able to get a vaccine.

State health officials and Gov. Kate Brown previously balked at the president’s announcement, cheering his ambition while simultaneously hesitating to promise vaccines to people before they materialized. The previous federal administration under Donald Trump made many empty promises in that regard.


Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen told OPB’s “Think Out Loud” on Wednesday that the federal government now appears to have ordered enough vaccine doses for the agency to more confidently update its timeline.

“It leaves us a little bit nervous,” Allen said. “To be fair, this administration has generally been pretty good about what it has assured us we will be able to see.”

The state will also loosen its grip on the vaccine timeline slightly. Individual counties who finish vaccinating eligible groups quicker will be allowed to move onto the next group at their own pace. Counties must submit written notice to the OHA before doing so.

The governor’s office also said migrant and seasonal farmworkers will also be eligible starting Monday in counties where they’ve already started working.

A nurse in a high-visibility vest, wearing a face mask and face shield kneels outside an open car door as she speaks to the driver who is just out of view.

Nurse Madison Freenling talks to a patient after giving a COVID-19 vaccine on Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021 in Portland, Ore., at a drive-thru vaccination clinic. The clinic was a partnership between SEIU and Oregon Health & Science University, aiming to vaccinate Oregon's 32,000 home health care workers and their patients.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

The rest of the timeline goes as follows:

  • March 29: adults between 45 and 64 with underlying health conditions; pregnant people 16 and older; migrant and seasonal farmworkers; seafood and agricultural workers; food processing workers; people experiencing homelessness; people displaced by wildfires; wildland firefighters; people in low-income senior housing, congregate care or independent living facilities
  • April 19: frontline workers who meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention definition, people in multigenerational housing and adults between 16 and 44 with underlying health conditions
  • May 1: all adults 16 and older

Oregon’s revised schedule would allow all adults to start seeking appointments by President Biden’s target date. Inoculating all these people will take much longer.

“Not every Oregonian will have a vaccination appointment waiting for them,” Allen said Friday. “It will take a while for supply to catch up to demand.”

Sometime this summer, Oregon will be faced with what could be the next big vaccine obstacle: lots of vaccines and not enough arms. As of Friday, the state had fully vaccinated more than half a million people. Oregon will reach herd immunity when between 70% and 80% of the state population has been vaccinated.

Also Friday, Brown said the Oregon Department of Education and OHA are reviewing updated guidance from the CDC on social distancing in schools.

The CDC says elementary students need only keep a safe social distance of 3 feet. Same goes for middle and high school students in areas where COVID-19 is not spreading as easily. The CDC maintained its guidance of 6 feet social distance for middle and high school students in communities where COVID-19 is more prevalent.

“School districts will still need to have conversations at the local level to update their plans for a return to in-person instruction and go through their own decision-making processes,” Brown said. “But I do hope this helps get even more of our kids back into classrooms.”

The governor has ordered all schools to return students to hybrid or full in-person learning by mid-April.

Oregon has confirmed more than 160,000 cases of COVID-19 as of Friday. The disease has killed at least 2,353 people in Oregon.

Watch the press event below.