Federal Promise Of Reserve COVID Vaccines False, Jeopardizing Oregon Teachers, Seniors

vaccine Kate Brown at vaccine clinic.jpeg

Oregon’s ability to begin administering vaccines to an expanded group of people in the coming weeks has been put in jeopardy after a promise from the federal government -- that the state’s allotment of the drugs would dramatically increase -- proved false.

Earlier this week, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced an unspecified number of doses held in reserve for second doses would be released to the states, according to the Washington Post.

That increased allotment of doses was expected to fuel a long-anticipated increase in vaccine administrations. In Oregon, all teachers and people over 65 were expected to be eligible for the vaccine on Jan. 23. The state’s ability to vaccinate those groups was based on the doses that were expected to come from the reserve.

On Thursday night, Gov. Kate Brown said she was told by Gustave F. Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, that no such reserve exists and the state’s allocation of vaccines would remain flat.

“States will not be receiving increased shipments of vaccines from the national stockpile next week, because there is no federal reserve of doses,” Brown said in a series of tweets Friday morning. “This is a deception on a national scale. Oregon’s seniors, teachers, all of us, were depending on the promise of Oregon’s share of the federal reserve of vaccines being released to us.”

In a letter to Azar, the director of the Oregon Health Authority said if the state did not receive the increased shipment of doses, as promised, the ramifications could be dire.

“If true, this is extremely disturbing, and puts our plans to expand eligibility at grave risk,” Patrick Allen wrote. “Those plans were made on the basis of reliance on your statement about ‘releasing the entire supply’ you have in reserve. If this information is accurate, we will be unable to begin vaccinating our vulnerable seniors on Jan. 23, as planned.”

According to The New York Times, 28 states have already started vaccinating seniors based on their current vaccination allocations. Thirty-two have significantly expanded vaccination eligibility to include essential workers, including teachers, based on their current vaccination allocations.

But Oregon was going to wait until Jan. 23 before expanding vaccinations to these two groups -- and now that the state has found out the additional second-dose vaccinations aren’t coming next week, Oregon may be posed to halt its plan to include seniors and K-12 educators. That -- when the state has about 189,000 unused doses, according to its state tracking system and CDC figures.

Questions to the health authority about how many additional doses it was expecting and what contingency plans it has to get vaccines to Oregon’s teachers and older people were not immediately answered Friday morning.

Oregonian/OregonLive reporter Aimee Green contributed to this report.

-- Kale Williams; [email protected]; 503-294-4048; @sfkale

This story was originally published by The Oregonian/OregonLive and is posted here through a content-sharing agreement among a dozen Oregon media outlets.

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