Oregon Opens COVID-19 Vaccination To All Residents 16 And Older On April 19

All Oregonians 16 and older will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine on April 19, Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday. 

The accelerated eligibility date comes even as news reports say President Joe Biden plans to order all states to open vaccination to everyone by April 19, a speedup from Biden's previous May 1 deadline. Oregon health care providers and public health agencies are currently vaccinating priority groups that include essential workers who have prolonged exposure to people outside their household, people with underlying health conditions and people who live in multigenerational households with at least three generations or a grandparent caring for a grandchild. Those groups all became eligible statewide on Monday.

“We are locked in a race between vaccine distribution and the rapid spread of COVID-19 variants,” Brown said in a prepared statement. “Today, Oregon will pass the threshold of 2 million vaccine doses administered. And yet, in communities across Oregon, COVID-19 is spreading at concerning rates. We must move as quickly as possible to get more shots in arms.”

However, when someone becomes eligible for the vaccine, that doesn’t necessarily mean they immediately can get a jab. But they can make appointments. Providers continue to do outreach and look for people willing to get vaccinated in groups that are already eligible, such as senior citizens. 

The rollout varies from county to county, but public health officials are urging everyone to get vaccinated when it’s their turn so the state can reach herd immunity, the level needed to significantly hold the spread of COVID-19. Some counties have vaccinated more than 70% of senior citizens older than 65, while other counties have struggled to fill appointment slots.

Oregon’s vaccine rollout faced criticism when Brown opted to vaccinate K-12 teachers and school support staff ahead of senior citizens to reopen schools sooner. 

As the state vaccinates frontline workers and people with underlying conditions ahead of the wider rollout, officials hope to reach minority populations more. 

“Whether before April 19 or after, it’s critical that we continue to focus on equity in our vaccine distribution efforts,” Brown said. “Oregon’s Black, Indigenous, Latino, Latina, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, tribal and communities of color have been disproportionately hard-hit by this disease. We must reach Oregonians where they are, including those who may not have easy access to health care or the ability to take time off from work.”

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both require two doses spaced several weeks apart. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one dose, but its production slowed down after a manufacturing error spoiled up to 15 million doses. That’s bogged down the federal Food and Drug Administration authorization of the plant’s production lines.

In Oregon, officials have said that won’t delay eligibility dates, but it will hurt the state’s earlier goal of providing a dose to everyone who wants one by the end of May. That goal has been pushed back eight or nine days, which reflects an estimated shortfall of 200,000-300,000 fewer doses in April. 

Children under 16 cannot get the vaccine, although manufacturers have trials underway and a vaccine for children could become available as early as this fall.

Oregon Officials To Visit Feds About Allocation

Oregon officials are concerned that the state’s allocation of vaccine supplies from the federal government may be less than it should be.

Oregon state officials and the White House will meet later today to discuss the issue, Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen told the Oregon Health Policy Board on Tuesday. 

On a per-capita level for adults, Oregon ranks approximately between 40th and 50th nationwide, Allen said. He said there can be reasons why some states may get more than other states on a per capita basis, such as if they have a large military base on site. 

The purpose of the meeting, Allen said, will be to “dig into it” and get a better understanding of the numbers.

“My office will work closely with the White House to ensure Oregon receives our fair share of federal vaccine supplies, so we can continue with a fast, fair, and equitable vaccine distribution process,” Brown said in her statement.

County Risk Levels Updated

Separately, Brown announced updates to the county risk levels that guide public health measures that counties must enforce for restaurants, gyms, entertainment venues and other businesses.  

No counties are assigned to the extreme risk category, the most restrictive part of the four-level framework that includes high risk, moderate risk and lower risk. The extreme risk category, for example, does not allow any indoor dining in restaurants. The other levels allow limited dining based on a rate of the restaurant’s capacity. For example, restaurants in high risk counties can operate at 25% capacity. 

In the updated framework, Oregon will have 14 counties in the high risk level, six at the moderate risk level and 16 at lower risk. Those risk levels are effective Friday for the next two weeks. The state reviews data on a county’s COVID-19 cases and the percentage of positive tests to determine if a county will move up, down or stay the same every two weeks. 

The state’s also added new metrics to that system that -- in this two-week cycle -- will keep counties from sliding into the extreme risk category. 

In order for counties to enter the extreme risk category, they must meet a statewide trigger: Oregon must have COVID-19 positive patients in at least 300 hospital beds and a 15% increase in the seven-day average of cases in the past week. They also still must meet other criteria, including increasing case counts and rates of positive tests.

Counties that meet other eligibility criteria for an extreme risk ranking without the statewide trigger in place will be labeled high risk instead. That happened this two-week period with three counties; Josephine, Klamath, and Tillamook.

“We are at a critical moment in this pandemic as we face more contagious variants of COVID-19 taking hold in our communities,” Brown said. “Now more than ever it’s imperative that we all continue wearing masks, maintain physical distance, stay home when sick, and get the vaccine when it’s available to you.”

Overall, five counties improved in rankings and six counties worsened. Grant and Malheur counties improved from moderate to lower risk. Umatilla County improved from high risk to moderate risk, Two coastal counties, Coos and Curry counties, improved from extreme risk to high risk.

Six counties worsened from moderate to high risk: Multnomah, Clackamas, Deschutes, Klamath, Linn and Tillamook. The other 25 counties stayed the same in the framework.

Five counties qualified for a backward movement, but received a two-week warning period to improve instead. The state gives a two-week warning period to counties that improved in the prior period so businesses can plan and don’t bounce between two sets of restrictions every two weeks.  Those five counties are: Baker, Columbia, Lane, Polk and Yamhill. 

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

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