Obeying Federal Order, Oregon Will Open Vaccine To All On May 1 

vaccine staff prepare doses OHSU.jpg

Oregon is retooling its COVID-19 vaccination plan and will open up eligibility to all Oregonians 16 and older by May 1, following a federal order, state officials said Wednesday.

Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen confirmed the change in the state’s rollout on Wednesday to the House COVID-19 Subcommittee. Last week, Gov. Kate Brown and state health officials welcomed President Joe Biden’s new vow to open up eligibility nationwide to all adults by May 1. But they stopped short of confirming that would happen in Oregon because they said they would need more vaccine doses to accomplish that. 

Oregon received an order from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday that turns Biden’s aspirational promise into a binding directive for states. 

Between now and May 1, Oregon will still prioritize groups for eligibility. The state plans to move forward with its plans to expand the eligibility on March 29 to certain frontline workers, including agricultural and food processing industry employees, wildland firefighters and people 45 to 64 with underlying chronic conditions like heart disease and asthma.

The state had planned to open to other targeted groups April-June 30, and then to the general public by July 1. 

Biden's promise was to expand eligibility to everyone 18 and older. A health authority spokesman clarified that Oregon will make everyone 16 and older eligible by May 1 because the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is authorized for people that age. The vaccines manufactured by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are only for those 18 and older. 

Allen said the order is binding for all states and that before it came out, Oregon officials “kind of hedged a little bit” because they needed more information.

The federal order means that Oregon will have to scrap its rollout plan, which potentially would have made people eligible up to two months later than Biden’s plan. By June 1, under the state’s plan, vaccinations would open up to everyone age 45 and older. By July 1, the state had planned for the general population age 16 to 44 would be eligible. State officials have said they would move those dates up as more vaccine supplies become available.

Oregon receives more than 126,000 doses a week and estimates it will receive upwards of 200,000 doses a week by the end of March.

State Will Still Prioritize Some Groups

But just because all adults will become eligible on May 1 doesn’t mean they’ll be able to secure an immediate vaccination.

They’ll still need to get an appointment at a pharmacy, mass vaccination site, or other location, and wait, possibly weeks or longer. 

So far, Oregon has vaccinated more than 865,800 people with at least one dose of the vaccine, which usually requires two doses spaced several weeks apart, unless the recipient receives a dose of the newer single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Pfizer and Moderna produce the two-dose vaccine. The state has administered 1.35 million doses so far. 

With Oregon’s original timeline scuttled, Allen said the state is now exploring the feasibility of making people with chronic conditions and other frontline workers eligible before May 1 to get a jump on those groups. 

The state devoted March primarily to vaccinating senior citizens and hard-to-reach groups like people in adult foster homes and homebound people. So far, about 63% of the population of seniors 80 and older are vaccinated; 61% of people 75-79 are vaccinated; 54% of people 70-74 are vaccinated; and 43% of people 65-69 are vaccinated. 

Even with eligibility open for all, the state has leeway to get vaccines to certain groups after May 1. That’s because the Oregon Health Authority decides how many vaccine doses go to different providers, such as mass vaccination clinics, public health agencies, clinics, pharmacies and federally qualified health centers.

Allen said he doesn’t have specifics yet, but in general, the state could, for example, allocate some of its doses to “closed points of distribution” for major front-line employers to vaccinate workers. The general public would not have access to those appointments.

That hybrid system would provide a combination of access for everyone through mass vaccination sites, outreach to underserved populations through providers like federal clinics and targeted doses for frontline workers.

“I think you’ll see us doing a little bit of both,” Allen said. 

The governor’s office confirmed that broad outline.

Brown Expects Vaccine Shipments To Increase

In a statement, Charles Boyle, a spokesman for Gov. Brown, said federal vaccine production agreements for more supplies to flow as eligibility opens up is “welcome news.” 

“We look forward to partnering with the federal government to ensure that Oregon and our local health partners have the vaccine supplies and federal support necessary to implement this directive,” Boyle said. “We are following up with the administration for more specifics about when vaccine shipments to states will increase, but in a briefing with governors earlier this week, it was clear the White House has worked hard to secure additional vaccine supplies for states in the coming weeks.”

Like Allen, Boyle said the state will prioritize vulnerable groups through earlier eligibility or outreach through local health providers after May 1.

“ We will continue to center equity in all of our vaccine distribution efforts, whether that means ensuring that seniors, people with underlying conditions, frontline workers, and the Oregonians most vulnerable to COVID-19 have the opportunity for  vaccinations  prior to May 1 -- or after May 1, working with local health partners to ensure these priority groups continue to have access to appointments,” Boyle said.

As of Wednesday, 2,349 Oregonians have died from COVID-19 and the state has had 160,259 cases since the pandemic started. 

You can reach Ben Botkin at [email protected] or via Twitter @BenBotkin1.

News source: