Oregonians Face Long Vaccine Wait As State Begins Work On Protocols

Kate Brown by Bradley Parks of OPB.jpg

Oregon’s goal is to vaccinate about 3 million of its 4.2 million residents against COVID-19 in order to reach “community immunity,” officials said Friday, but it will likely take many months to accomplish such widespread inoculation.

About 100,000 Oregonians will receive their first dose of the two-dose regimen of the vaccination by the end of the year, Gov. Kate Brown said Friday in a press briefing about the state’s COVID-19 efforts.

By the end of this month, Oregon expects to have received about 200,000 doses of the vaccine from Pfizer and Moderna, two manufacturers with separately approved vaccines.

Beyond this initial shipment, the federal government has given the state no time frame on when to expect more doses.

To inoculate 3 million people, the state needs 6 million doses.

Health care workers are the first ones up, especially those who work in hospitals and clinics where they have direct contact with COVID-19 patients. Oregon has about 300,000 health care workers, including those who work in support roles such as housekeeping and food service.

The federal government has indicated it will make a big push next year to provide states with the vaccine, but has provided no specifics. All vaccine procurement is centralized through the federal government.

The pandemic has killed 1,138 Oregonians so far, and more than. More than 91,000 residents in Oregon have tested positive.

Oregon’s rate of COVID-19 deaths for its population size is low compared to the nation as a whole, said Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority. If the state had the national average COVID-19 death rate, another 2,000 or more Oregon residents would have died thus far, he said.

It’s crucial Oregonians do not let down their defenses, officials said Friday.

Health officials urged people to continue to physically distance, wear face masks, stay home when they are sick, and avoid large gatherings.

“As we wait for wider distribution of vaccines, one of our most important challenges is to remind Oregonians to keep up your guard,” Brown said.

Brown said the state anticipates it will need to vaccinate more than 10,000 people a day as it works towards its goal of innoculating 3 million people.

The state isn’t aiming to vaccinate everyone.

Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist, said vaccinating about 70% of the population will achieve community immunity, also known as herd immunity. With such widespread immunization, the virus would largely die out for lack of hosts, experts believe.

In the meantime, Sidelinger said, the state hopes current protection measures will knock down infection rates, which could allow the state to ease restrictions on restaurants, bars and other establishments.

“We’re not going to set around and wait for the vaccine to come,” Sidelinger said.

Allen said it’s impossible to know when the federal government will provide the state with more vaccine doses.

Reports of production line disruptions at drug makers mean that it difficult to be sure “until we see vaccines show up on the loading dock,”  Allen said.

The state is assembling a committee to determine who are essential workers and prioritize vaccine distribution.

The state plans to do outreach to community groups and include people of color in its vaccination efforts. Communities of color have been hit hard by the pandemic and have suffered disproportionately high rates of infection. 

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

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