As vaccine supplies continue to increase, Oregon is accelerating its timeline for COVID-19 vaccination eligibility for frontline workers and people with underlying chronic conditions, Gov. Kate Brown and public health officials announced Friday.
The acceleration comes as Oregon seeks to meet the May 1 deadline that President Joe Biden set for all states opening up eligibility to everyone.
Starting, Monday, April 5, the state is opening eligibility to all frontline workers, plus multigenerational household members and adults 16 and older with underlying chronic health conditions. That group previously was set to become eligible on April 19. There is currently no vaccine for children under 16.
On Monday, Oregon is expanding eligibility statewide to another group that includes adults 45-64 with underlying health conditions, migrant and seasonal farm workers, seafood and agricultural workers, food processing workers, wildland firefighters and people in low-income senior housing and senior congregate settings and pregnant people 16 and older.
That group has already started to get vaccinated this week in some counties. Twenty-two of Oregon’s 36 counties submitted letters of attestation to the Oregon Health Authority declaring that they had the supplies on hand to move forward to this group and had openings for appointments not filled by senior citizens.
“With so many counties across Oregon ready to begin the next phases of vaccination, I am accelerating our vaccination timelines statewide rather than proceeding county-by-county,” Brown said in a prepared statement.
“As we vaccinate our frontline workers and all Oregonians with underlying health conditions, we will work to make sure vaccines reach the communities that have been hardest hit by COVID-19: Oregon’s Black, Indigenous, Latino, Latina, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, Tribal and communities of color,” Brown added.
Oregon’s initial rollout of priority groups has favored white Oregonians more than minorities, as the state made senior citizens eligible ahead of frontline workers. For example, Oregon is about 13% Latino, but only about 3% of the state’s senior population is Latino. However, public health officials said the state will start to vaccinate more people of color as frontline workers become eligible. For the past month, the state has focused largely on vaccinating senior citizens.
Meanwhile, the volume of vaccine flowing into the state continues to rise, albeit sometimes in fits and starts.
Johnson & Johnson doses fluctuated this week, when Oregon received 24,200 doses, about 40,000 less than the state expected.
Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen on Wednesday had raised concerns about Johnson & Johnson doses dipping with the House COVID-19 Subcommittee. However, on Friday, he said the state still expects to have received by early June sufficient supplies to vaccinate all Oregon adults who want a dose. Johnson & Johnson is a one-dose shot, unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which require two doses spaced several weeks apart.
“At this point, we think this is a question of timing rather than a question of whether the supply will materialize or not,” Allen said Friday in a press call.
Federal Government Eyes Looming Oversupply of Vaccine
Federal officials anticipate that by late May, if not sooner, there will be a nationwide oversupply of vaccine. BIden had promised enough doses to immunize all of the nation’s 260 million adults by the end of May. But the government has locked in commitments from manufacturers through the end of July for enough vaccine to cover a total of 400 million people -- 70 million more than the nation’s population, according to The New York Times.
Some federal administration officials want to hold onto the looming U.S. surplus, possibly to vaccinate children or provide booster shots if immunity from initial shots wears off, the newspaper reported.
Oregon officials don’t know yet if Johnson & Johnson will become the dominant vaccine used in Oregon.
The state has put at least one vaccine dose in slightly more than 1 million Oregonians. Nearly 580,000 people are fully vaccinated with either the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two doses of the other two vaccines. So far, the state has vaccinated about 66% of seniors 65 and older. By early April, the state expects that rate to be about 75%.
Shipments To Pharmacies Rising
In the coming week, the state will receive 195,000 first doses for people. Separately, the doses that go to the federal retail pharmacy program will increase from about 47,000 to more than 56,000 next week, and Oregon state officials believe those deliveries may continue at that clip. The federal pharmacy doses are in addition to the doses Oregon receives and allocates to providers.
By the week of April 10, Oregon officials tentatively expect to get 250,000 doses a week, Allen said, adding that the state has asked counties to develop plans to conduct surges in vaccinations.
The Oregon Health Authority allocates the amount of doses to different providers, including hospitals, clinics, public health agencies and others.
Region to region, county to county, the vaccination work is unfolding at different rates. Allen said some counties have less than 50% of seniors vaccinated. He urged Oregonians to become vaccinated when they are eligible.
The good news is that the state still has a general trend of declining cases and fewer positive test results as more Oregonians get vaccinated, said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist. For example, the state had 1,920 new cases of COVID-19 in the past week, a 15% drop from the prior week.
The state’s work will continue beyond early June, at which point it expects to have enough doses for all eligible Oregonians. That state and its partners will still need to do outreach to Oregonians to ensure the state reaches the level required for herd immunity, which is about 75%.
For now, though, Allen said the state needs to focus on at-risk populations as it prepares for a surge in demand when all Oregonians are made eligible.
Plus, Oregon may end up with another vaccine rollout if the federal government approves a vaccine for children under 16. Vaccine manufacturer Pfizer have started trials involving children.
According to the U.S. Census, there are about 840,000 Oregonians under the age of 18. It is unclear how many of those are under the age of 16.
Meanwhile, state officials are starting to talk about what the framework and regulations will look like for large outdoor gatherings and venues in the summer and fall. That work will depend on how the state’s vaccine rollout progresses and, of course, COVID-19 case levels.
You can reach Ben Botkin at [email protected] or via Twitter @BenBotkin1.