State officials still plan to vaccinate 12,000 Oregonians per day by the end of next week and will deploy troops to help Oregon reach that goal, starting with the Salem Fairgrounds, Gov. Kate Brown said Friday.
Oregon has faced escalating criticism for the slow rollout of its coronavirus vaccination program and a lack of clarity about who will get vaccinated and when. Oregon’s vaccination rate as of Jan. 8 lags behind 39 other states, according to federal health data.
The governor and her top health lieutenant, Patrick Allen, presented a variety of steps the state is taking to make sure more people quickly get a shot of the coronavirus vaccine while cautioning that the pandemic could yet take a turn for the worse, especially after the recent winter holidays.
“We’re still waiting to see the impact of our actions over the holidays and New Year’s, and whether a second, and possibly worse, winter surge is headed our way,” Brown said during a news conference.
The first phase of the state’s vaccination program is expected to get a boost by Tuesday when the Oregon National Guard joins in helping Salem Health’s multi-day vaccination event at the Salem Fairgrounds.
The guardsmen will help get as many 250 people vaccinated per hour, Brown said. Per Salem Health, all Marion County residents currently eligible for a shot will be able to get vaccinated.
As of Thursday, 73,286 Oregonians had received at least one shot.
About 500,000 Oregonians, such as hospital nurses and nursing home caregivers, fall into the state’s priority list for vaccinations, state officials said. If Oregon meets its daily vaccination goal by the end of next week, it would take about a month to get the entire group vaccinated.
In what could be an even more significant development for senior care homes, the pharmacies contracted to inoculate long-term care residents and staff will soon be able to tackle approximately 75,000 residents and workers in assisted living, adult foster and independent living homes and other congregate settings.
The focus up until this point, aside from health care workers, had been only on the smaller segment of nursing homes and memory care facilities.
Among the most consequential of Brown’s recent decisions has been to allow schools to reopen at their own discretion and to prioritize educators getting vaccines once the core group of health care workers and congregate care residents and staff are vaccinated.
“For Oregon’s future, we should be all focused on how we can get our kids back into the classroom safely as quickly as possible,” Brown said.
State officials are expected to release new safety guidelines this month that schools will have to follow in order to reopen.
The Oregon Health Authority will ultimately decide the eligibility order for vaccinations. But in reality, those decisions will be influenced, if not determined, by the governor and a specially convened advisory committee focused on getting vaccines to historically marginalized groups that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
Notably, Oregon has apparently sidelined a federal recommendation that people 75 and older be among the first to get a shot. Precisely when those Oregonians can get in line will likely be determined, at least in part, by Oregon’s Vaccine Advisory Committee.
Washington, for instance, has said people 70 years and older will be eligible later this month, along with people 50 and older who live in multi-generational households.
“Look,” Brown said when pressed on her decision to prioritize educators. “These are really, really tough decisions. And the harsh reality is that we do not have enough vaccines to vaccinate everyone at once.”
— Fedor Zarkhin; email@example.com; 503-294-7674