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First COVID-19 Vaccines Arrive In Oregon, Immunizations To Start Soon

It’s not immediately clear when the first vaccinations will begin, although a spokesperson for the Oregon Health Authority suggested it may be Wednesday.
December 14, 2020

The first shipments of the long-awaited coronavirus vaccine have arrived in Oregon, although officials don’t expect to begin inoculating any residents Monday.

The shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were expected to arrive at 10:30 a.m. Monday but instead arrived by about 7 a.m., according to the Oregon Health Authority. A Legacy Health facility in Northeast Portland and Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center in Tualatin received the first two 975-dose shipments.

It’s not immediately clear when the first vaccinations will begin, although an agency spokesperson suggested it may be Wednesday.

Frontline health care workers will be the first to start receiving the vaccine, followed by residents of nursing homes beginning next week. They will need a second dose three weeks later in order for the vaccine to offer its full protection. The vaccine is estimated to be about 95% effective.

“In recent weeks, as COVID-19 vaccines reached the final stages of approval, I have said time and again that hope is on the way. Today, I can tell you that help is here,” said Gov. Kate Brown in a video statement. “ ... Today, the first shipments of that (Pfizer-BioNTech) vaccine arrived in Oregon, the first of many that will be distributed across the entire state.”

“We are certainly in the middle of some of the hardest days of this pandemic,” Brown continued. “Our hospitals are stretched to capacity, and too many families are losing loved ones just as we enter the holiday season. So many Oregonians have suffered and sacrificed in the last ten months. But starting this week, and each week following –– as vaccines become more widely available –– we will begin gaining ground again in our fight against this disease.”

Oregon Health Authority officials deferred all questions about why the state isn’t seeing vaccinations today to Legacy.

Brian Terrett, a Legacy spokesperson, said the hospital system doesn’t have a specific day in mind for administering the first vaccines, but said it would like be three to five days before the first vaccinations at their facilities.

Terrett said health care workers will review the documentation that comes with the vaccine for the next three to five days, a similar process, he said, to what plays out each year when flu vaccines are delivered though one that is slightly elongated. “They want to make sure they get it right,” Terrett said. “They don’t want to do anything wrong, so they are carefully going over the documentation with a fine tooth comb.”

When asked why Oregon hospitals aren’t moving forward with vaccinations as quickly as other states, which delivered the first shots on Monday, Terrett said he couldn’t speak to their plans and would want to know when they first received their doses.

Legacy received one shipment of 975 doses at 6:45 a.m. Monday and a second at around 7:10 a.m., Terrett said.

The Western State’s Scientific Review Workgroup, an independent body that was set up with Oregon and other states to sign off on the scientific efficacy of the vaccine, determined it was safe.

Terrett acknowledged that fact, but said the documents that arrived with Pfizer vaccine are more extensive and require more review “given the historic nature” of the vaccine’s arrivals. “They are being extra careful,” he said.

He couldn’t specifically say which front-line workers at what Legacy facilities will be first in line to receive the vaccine, but added they would likely be ICU staffers or people who work closely with COVID-19 patients. Legacy has two freezers on hand and expects two additional storage units to arrive Tuesday.

It’s not clear that Oregon is out of step with other states in its vaccine administration, though state officials did not immediately respond to specific questions about how, or if, Oregon is helping oversee the vaccine distribution.

The University of Washington’s Medical School in Seattle announced it received its first wave of vaccines Monday. Susan Gregg, spokesperson for the health care system that runs four hospitals and 300 clinics in that state, said it would start vaccinations Thursday. Gregg said the health care workers there would continue to monitor safety information on the vaccines from the FDA, CDC and others in coming days.

California saw its first vaccines administered Monday, a historic moment in Los Angeles that was attended by Gov. Gavin Newsom and others.

Among other Oregon hospitals that will soon receive shipments: Kaiser Permanente, which has two hospitals in the Portland area, will receive 975 doses Tuesday and plans to begin vaccinations Friday at its Sunnyside and Westside Medical Center. The health care organization has a freezer in Washington and Oregon to store the vaccines.

Oregon Health & Science University in Portland and Saint Alphonsus Medical Center in Ontario, along the Oregon-Idaho border, also will receive 975 dose shipments Tuesday.

Salem Health, which owns and operates a hospital and other clinics in the state’s capital city, also expects 975 doses at an undetermined date. A spokesperson said the state health authority had not said when Salem Health would receive its shipment, but added they expect to begin vaccinations the day those doses are received.

In all, Oregon is expected to receive 35,100 doses this week. More than 24,375 of those doses are going to hospitals and health systems. The other 10,725 doses will go to nursing homes.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked Oregon to choose the first sites to receive the vaccine, and the system of distribution is being monitored, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

Across the country on Monday, health care workers began receiving immunizations. Among them, a critical care nurse in New York and workers at a medical center in Ohio.

On Sunday, a scientific review panel for Oregon, California, Washington and Nevada reviewed the data on the Pfizer vaccine and determined it was “safe and efficacious.”

Last week, a U.S. panel of scientists reviewed trial data and gave the vaccine its stamp of approval. The federal Food and Drug Administration on Friday granted the vaccine an emergency use authorization for people ages 16 and older. The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Redfield, said Sunday he recommends the vaccine.

By the end of December, Oregon could receive between a total of 197,500 and 228,400 doses of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, according to the Oregon Health Authority and the governor’s office.

Brown said the state will “work to ensure” groups disproportionately affected by COVID-19 -- including Black, Latino and tribal communities -- will have “equitable access to vaccination.”

There are more than 4.2 million residents statewide -- and estimates of when everyone who wants a vaccine gets one range from summer to fall. It’s unknown precisely when children younger than 16 will get the OK to be inoculated. Scientists say more study is needed before giving the vaccine to younger children.

After health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities, essential workers will be next in line to get inoculated. But the state has yet to decide who will be defined as an essential worker and what order those workers will be vaccinated in within that group.

After that, people with underlying conditions that put them at high risk of severe complications from COVID-19 and people older than 65 will be given vaccinations.

It will likely be sometime in the spring before the general population’s turn in line comes up.

Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, urged Oregonians to continue to wear masks, avoid gatherings and take other public health safety precautions because vaccinations are still months away for most Oregonians.

“The vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel, but we will be in this tunnel for several months,” he said in a news release. “We need to keep doing what we’ve been doing to help our friends, neighbors and ourselves stay safe.”

-- Aimee Green; [email protected]; @o_aimee

-- Andrew Theen; [email protected]; 503-294-4026; @andrewtheen

This story was first published by The Oregonian/OregonLive and is shared here through a coronavirus-sharing agreement among more than a dozen medial outlets in Oregon.