Oregon's New COVID-19 Vaccination Plan Makes Everyone Eligible By July 1 

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Oregon officials on Friday released plans for how they will make the entire state population age 16 and older eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations by July 1. They're also switching to a lottery sign-up system in the Portland area after a crush of demand. 

As an initial next step, the state will make many more people in its so-called 1b group eligible on March 29, including adults ages 45-64 with at least one underlying chronic condition and many vulnerable front-line workers, including seafood industry workers, agricultural and food processing workers and wildland firefighters. The group also includes homeless people and those in low-income and congregant housing. 

Chronic conditions, defined by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, include heart and lung disease, obesity and compromised immune systems.

The state still hasn’t finished vaccinating its highest-priority groups, including the health care workers and the elderly age 70 and up. But officials said they don’t want to pause the continuing eligibility expansion to let providers catch up with vaccinating the most at-risk populations.

Beyond March 29, the next rollout milestone will be May 1, by which date more frontline workers plus adults 16 to 44 with chronic conditions, will become eligible. That group of frontline workers is broad but they must meet a three-pronged test that they have regular and close contact with people outside their household, and that they must not work from home or in another setting that limits the contact. This category includes construction, the media, public transit, the U.S. postal service,  grocery stores and others. 

The state will open vaccinations to everyone age 45 and older by June 1. The general population age 16 and older would be eligible by July 1. Vaccines have not been approved for children under 16.

The state is optimistic the federal government will steadily increase the amount of vaccine it is providing. The rollout pace could accelerate or stall, depending on the volume of vaccine, officials said.

Oregon officials warned that residents should not become complacent and must continue to practice distancing and wear a mask. The new timeline “gives us all a reason to breathe a sigh of relief, (but) it should also serve as a reminder that the finish line is in sight and we cannot let up,” Gov. Kate Brown said. 

So far, Oregon has administered nearly 912,000 first or second doses of the vaccine. Nearly 589,000 Oregonians have received at least one dose. Of those, 317,267 Oregonians are fully vaccinated. About 3.4 million Oregonians are 16 and over.

Oregon is in the midst of a vaccinating seniors, with nearly 260,000 people ages 65-69 eligible next week. The state made seniors age 80 and up eligible the week of Feb. 8 and each week since has opened the vaccine up to younger seniors.

Seniors in the Portland area have spend hours on the computer, trying to navigate frozen screens and crashing websites only to come up empty. On Thursday, 400,000 people vyed for under 3,500 slots. Amid widespread frustration, state officials announced they are moving to a lottery system in the Portland area through GetVaccinated.Oregon.gov. People sign up and wait until their name is called.

State officials said one in three seniors are vaccinated with at least one of the two required doses. For March, officials will concentrate on getting the senior population vaccinated.

Oregon providers are also still vaccinating people in the 1a group, which includes health care providers, first responders, and staff and residents in long-term care facilities. In addition, the state has struggled to vaccinate the population in adult foster homes, partly because of the small size of the homes -- five residents or fewer -- and the disabilities of many of the residents.

State Hopes For 205,000 Doses Per Week

Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen said the state’s ramp-up plan is based on “game-changing” doses the state expects from the federal government, but cautioned that the state is at the mercy of supply volumes. 

“As always, these projections depend on vaccines actually materializing in Oregon from manufacturers and the federal government,” Allen said. 

But overall, state officials sounded upbeat Friday about the feasibility of their timetable. 

“We’re speeding up our timeline, not backing off,” Allen said. 

In its current form, the state’s vaccination schedule could provide first doses to everyone who wants one by August or September, Allen said. 

However, Allen cautioned that seniors and others will face trying times as they try to get vaccinated amid the ever-widening eligibility pool.

“For the next week or two, we’ll still face shortages,” Allen said, adding that many people will be “frustrated and unhappy.”

By mid-March, the state’s weekly vaccine allocation will climb quickly and could reach 190,000 to 205,000 first doses if promised supplies arrive, Allen said. In comparison, this week, Oregon received about 111,000 doses and next week the state will receive about 120,000. 

Seniors must navigate a web of options based on their region. For Portland-area residents, Allen said the state will draw at random names of those who register on the GetVaccinated.Oregon.Gov website and invite people to get a shot at the Oregon Convention Center, which is run by several large hospitals in Portland. Counties outside the Portland area manage their own vaccinations. Check the state website for more information.

Oregon also faces more than just the challenges of vaccination supply lines and a lack of centralized appointments. The state needs enough people to get vaccinated to reach herd immunity, which is about 75% of the population. 

“We need a critical mass of Oregonians to take it,” Oregon Public Health Director Rachel Banks said.

Brown also said that Oregon will receive $220 million in federal funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse hospitals, clinics, public health agencies and other providers for their costs of administering the vaccine from Jan. 21 until April 21. The Oregon Health Authority doesn’t directly vaccinate people, but allocates where the doses will go throughout Oregon. The federal agency is also sending 20 staff next week to visit sites and relieve workers. Those staff will visit the Oregon Convention Center, Portland International Airport and Hillsboro Stadium. They’ll also visit mass vaccination sites in central Oregon and the Oregon state fairgrounds in Salem. 

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

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