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Vaccine Delays Mount After Severe Weather Wallops Oregon and Midwest

Snowstorms elsewhere postpone weekly shipment of Moderna vaccine to Oregon though Pfizer vaccine doses for the week did arrive.
Vaccine is delivered to Oregon Health & Science University. | OHSU
February 17, 2021

The harsh winter weather across the United States delayed delivery of 67,000 doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine to Oregon this week. 

The delay has different impacts throughout the state and doesn’t necessarily mean Oregonians cannot get a dose this week. That largely depends on where people are seeking a dose and whether the location already has ample supplies on hand. 

Delivery was delayed to dozens of providers, and at least some had to roll back vaccinations.

But not everyone took a hit.

For example, the mass vaccination clinic at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland is still on this week, after rescheduling appointments during the weekend after the ice storm. But rural Malheur County canceled a mass vaccination event scheduled for Thursday after a delivery of 500 doses failed to materialize this week.

The 67,000 doses represents about two-thirds of Oregon’s weekly allocation, which is now slightly more than 100,000 doses when accounting for shots from both Moderna and Pfizer.

But Oregon also holds back doses without using them all up immediately, both for logistical planning at clinics and because the vaccine requires two doses per person spaced several weeks apart.  Nearly half a million Oregonians are either fully vaccinated or have received at least one dose. 

Weather is delaying the shipment of doses from manufacturer Moderna out of Memphis, said Erica Heartquist, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Health Authority. Tennessee has been hit by bitterly cold weather and a series of snow storms that have dumped a total of over 5 inches at Memphis International Airport.

The shipments from the federal government and pharmaceutical manufacturers don’t directly go to the Oregon Health Authority, but the agency allocates where the doses go in the state. 

No Moderna shipments occurred Wednesday and at this point it is unclear about Thursday, Heartquist said in an email to The Lund Report. 

“It seems very unlikely that Moderna will arrive by Friday,” Heartquist said.

If a vaccination site had previously agreed to accept deliveries on weekends, it’s possible that it could get weekend deliveries of the backlogged doses, though that’s uncertain, Heartquist said. However, providers cannot change that preference now with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to get weekend deliveries, Heartquist said.

Officials expect the shipments to catch up, but that may not happen until next week, when locations will get twice the normal number of Moderna doses. Moderna doses usually arrive in Oregon early in the week and were supposed to enter the state on Tuesday.

Pfizer Vaccine Flow Not Affected

The flow of Pfizer vaccine to the state has not been affected.

This week’s Pfizer doses totaled 34,125, and went to providers in Multnomah, Lane, Marion and Jackson counties. That allocation included 25,350 first doses and 8,775 second doses, which are to be given several weeks after the first dose. This includes 17,550 first doses for the mass vaccination clinic at the Oregon Convention Center in Multnomah County.

The Oregon Convention Center site is open this week after shuttering Friday, Saturday and Sunday due to the weather. Organizers rescheduled appointments for about 10,000 people at the site, which is run by Legacy, Oregon Health & Science University, Providence Health & Services and Kaiser Permanente, said a spokesman.

“The mass vaccination site doesn’t schedule appointments until it has vaccines in hand,” said Brian Terrett, a spokesman for Legacy Health Services. This means everyone with an appointment was rescheduled rather than cancelled, Terrett said. There have been no delays in vaccine delivery for the site, he added.

State public health officials say people should contact the vaccine provider in their county for information about what is available. 

Salem Health’s mass vaccination clinic at the Oregon State Fair and Expo Center will proceed with first and second dose appointments this week and is not impacted by delays in vaccine shipments, a spokeswoman for Salem Health said. That site operates Tuesday-Saturday.

However, Salem Health’s vaccine clinic at Western Oregon University in Monmouth had to cancel its first dose appointments scheduled for Wednesday due to the shipment delays, said Lisa Wood, a spokeswoman for the provider. That site operates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 

The clinic plans to proceed with scheduled appointments on Friday, but only for second doses. The provider hasn’t yet opened up first-dose appointments for Friday, pending confirmation of vaccine shipment, and didn’t have to cancel appointments. 

Salem Health transports vaccines to locations only for each day’s schedule and keeps the product in storage at Salem Hospital. Salem Health’s clinic in Woodburn canceled its Saturday doses and transferred vaccine into hospital storage, Wood said, adding that there was no loss of vaccine doses.

Delays Hit Pharmacies, Local Health Departments

This week’s allocation data show 53 different providers in most Oregon counties face delays in receiving Moderna doses. The delays stretch from eastern Oregon to coastal communities, and hit pharmacies, local health departments, hospitals and tribes. The delayed vaccine was to have been used to provide 29,300 first doses for K-12 teachers and early childhood educators, senior citizens and people in the 1a group, which includes health care workers, people with disabilities and residents and staff in long-term care facilities. The remaining 37,700 were allocated for second doses. 

The state’s vaccine schedule makes seniors age 75 and older eligible for vaccines this week. The rollout will continue to make younger seniors eligible during each of the next two weeks, until all seniors age 65 and older are eligible starting the week of March 1.

The weather-induced delays are a further glitch in a vaccination program already hamstrung by far too little vaccine and far too many people eligible for the shots.

Even before the weather delay, Oregon public health officials said seniors may have to wait weeks to get a vaccine, due to limited supplies. 

A delay in a small shipment can force a rural county to halt its vaccination work. 

Malheur County canceled a first-dose clinic scheduled for Thursday due to a delay in a shipment of 500 doses.

Erika Harmon, a spokeswoman for Malheur County Health Department, said demand has remained high in the rural eastern Oregon county. A clinic on Feb. 6 used all of its roughly 440 doses.
“There’s definitely demand for vaccine,” Harmon said. 

Malheur County still plans to offer a clinic for people on Thursday to receive the second dose, which is already on hand for people who received their first dose on Jan. 21. The county plans to do its next first-dose clinic on Feb. 25. 

In southwest Washington, a mass vaccination clinic provided second-dose inoculations at the Clark County fairgrounds on Wednesday without any delays. That site began offering second doses this week after vaccinating 10,148 people with first doses since Jan. 26. A spokeswoman for the Washington State Department of Health said the site had make-up appointments on Tuesday for people who missed their appointments Friday and Saturday due to the weather.

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