Oregon Hopes To Have Big Vaccination Push In Early 2021

If all goes well, Oregon will greatly ramp up its COVID-19 vaccination drive by mid-winter, with the hopes of having 70% of the population – about 3 million people  – inoculated by late spring or summer, said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state’s chief epidemiologist, in an interview with The Lund Report.

In the meantime, however, even as the first residents are vaccinated, everyone – including those who are inoculated -- will need to follow rules for wearing masks, physical distancing and other steps, Sidelinger said. That’s because studies of the vaccines have not yet clarified whether vaccinated people may transmit the disease.

A vaccinated person might be asymptomatic and still, for example, carry the virus in their respiratory tract and be able to spread it, Sidelinger said, “which is one of the reasons we will continue to be attached to our masks into the spring.”

Last Friday, state officials said they aim to carry out 10,000 vaccinations a day, as the vaccine shipments allocated by the federal government begin arriving in the state. The first shipment arrived Monday, with more vaccine vials expected on Tuesday. Given that each person needs two shots, the state would not meet its goal if it stayed with 10,000 shots at day. At that rate, it would take nearly two years to immunize 3 million people.

But Sidelinger said he hopes the delivery of vaccines to Oregon will swell rapidly starting next month and the state can scale up the rate of vaccinations.

“Ten thousand vaccinations per day is a starting point” based on the initial delivery this month of about 200,000 doses, or enough for 100,000 people, Sidelinger said. “We certainly would aim to increase that as the vaccine supply increases.”

He’s hoping 70% of the population will be inoculated by “late spring or early summer if all things go well.” 

Scientists say that to achieve community immunity, or so-called herd immunity, in which enough people are vaccinated to end the pandemic, that 70% to 80% of the public will need to be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.

But will that many Oregonians be willing to have the injections? 

Sidelinger hopes so. He said state officials  will do their best to persuade residents that the vaccines that are approved for emergency use are safe and effective.

(See also: Vaccine Passes First Bar With Approval From Scientists, But Questions Remain.)

The federal government has spent $10.7 billion on the development and manufacture of six vaccines in the hope that some will work. It’s allocating them to states based on population. Oregon has 1.3 percent of the national population, so it will get only a sliver of the total quantity being procured by the federal government. But federal officials have lined up 600 million doses by companies that are at the front of the pack, though it’s not clear when all of them will be available.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been approved by the federal government. Approval of the Moderna vaccine could come late this week. If so, large amounts of vaccine could start flowing to Oregon soon.

The federal government has procured 100 million doses each of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna candidate. It’s purchased the same amount of a vaccine by Johnson & Johnson, which is expected to report its results in January. And the government has purchased 300 million doses of a vaccine by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, a British company. 

Only Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine requires one dose. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require a waiting period of three to four weeks between the first and second injection. 

Sidelinger said the state will “really need to step up the number of vaccines per day” when vaccines arrive and the inoculation campaign is underway.

Restrictions Expected To Stay In Place

While people are being inoculated, the state will maintain its strict risk level system, which has designated almost the entire state at “extreme” risk and imposed severe clampdowns, including closure of indoor dining at restaurants and closure of indoor gyms and swimming pools, among other measures, Sidelinger said.

The risk levels are largely determined by the number of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the previous two weeks.

Only a handful of largely rural counties are not in “extreme” risk. The biggest population centers are far over the “extreme” threshold of 200 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the previous two weeks. Multnomah is at 538 per 100,000 people, Clackamas at 454, Washington at 515, Marion at 580 and Lane at 291.

For counties with such high rates of new infection, “it is certainly going to take longer to come down” to a lower risk level that will allow more businesses to open up, Sidelinger said.

He said he doesn’t expect the state, in the coming few months at least, to weaken the risk grid that imposes business and other restrictions based on the prevalence of new virus cases.

“We are going to be battling COVID through the winter and into the spring,” he said, and the state’s aim is to bring down the case rates rather than dilute its restrictions.

The closure of indoor dining has been a particularly contentious point. But indoor dining, Sidelinger said, “is definitely one of the riskier behaviors.” People in restaurants can’t wear masks while they eat, and they typically sit within six feet of each other.

Sidelinger noted that the evaluation of the vaccines has focused on whether the vaccines are good at preventing symptoms and serious illness - but not on the contagion risk. 

“We don’t yet have a significant amount of data on whether a person (who has been inoculated) can still be infected and give the illness to others,” he said.

“We don’t think that’s going to be the case, but we haven’t totally studied that question,” he said.  

Also, people who have had COVID-19 should get the vaccine, he said, because no one is sure how much immunity the illness itself confers.

Residents should not look at the vaccine as a cure-all, he added.

“The vaccine is an additional layer of protection,” Sidelinger said. “None of our protections are foolproof. That’s why we still need to limit gathering size, wear a mask, and distance.”

With all those measures combined, “we should see our case counts coming down across the state,” and counties will be able to move into lower risk levels and open up more activities, he said.

You can reach Christian Wihtol at [email protected].









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