PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — All Oregonians 16 and older will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by May 1, Governor Kate Brown announced on Wednesday.
“It is welcome news for all Oregonians that the Biden-Harris administration has secured the vaccine production agreements needed for everyone 16 and over in the United States to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine by May 1,” a statement from her office said.
Health officials are still working out the details of when they will receive the extra doses.
“We look forward to partnering with the federal government to ensure that Oregon and our local health partners have the vaccine supplies and federal support necessary to implement this directive. We are following up with the administration for more specifics about when vaccine shipments to states will increase, but in a briefing with governors earlier this week, it was clear the White House has worked hard to secure additional vaccine supplies for states in the coming weeks.”
Last week, Governor Brown and officials from the Oregon Health Authority expressed optimism that they would be able to match Biden’s timeline.
Brown said Oregon is currently administering an average of 24,000 shots per day. Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen said the state has the capacity to double this average – but they’re not changing any timelines until they receive confirmation that more doses are arriving.
Tri-county region lays groundwork
Multnomah County Public Health Director Jessica Guernsey said a dramatic increase in daily shots won’t be an easy order to fill. “We’re going to have to stretch ourselves to create the capacity to reach a larger number of people,” she said. “I’m not going to make it sound like everything’s going to be perfect. Across the board, it’s been a challenge all along and certainly with increased demands potentially that can cause some stress on the system.”
But Guernsey said the increase is something Multnomah County has been preparing for and will continue to do so in the coming weeks.
“We’ve been doing surge planning for several weeks now,” she said. “In COVID time, a full month away is almost an eternity for planning for that. So we’re spending every minute we have to do that to make sure it runs as smoothly as possible.”
Health teams and hospital systems in the tri-county region work together on much of their vaccine distribution planning. And while they wait for more details from the state about the newly-promised federal resources, Guernsey said it’s important to continue vaccinating people who are currently eligible, especially older adults.
“We do need to continue to focus in this next month to make sure specifically community elders are completely vaccinated because that’s really where we’ve seen a lot of impact around extreme health issues and even death,” she said.
The next wave of eligibility opens on March 29:
- Adults age 45 to 64 with underlying health conditions as defined by the CDC
- Seasonally-impacted frontline workers, such as migrant seasonal farmworkers, seafood and agricultural workers, and food processing workers
- Currently displaced victims of the September 2020 wildfires
- Wildland firefighters
- People living in low-income and congregate senior housing
- Individuals experiencing houselessness
- All pregnant women 16 and older
Brown’s office said they are still focusing on equitable distribution despite the new timeline.
“We will continue to center equity in all of our vaccine distribution efforts, whether that means ensuring that seniors, people with underlying conditions, frontline workers, and the Oregonians most vulnerable to COVID-19 have the opportunity for vaccinations prior to May 1––or after May 1, working with local health partners to ensure these priority groups continue to have access to appointments.”
Dan Clay, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 555 issued a statement Wednesday night. It said, in part:
“It is our hope that the governor will work with us to create a path for prioritization for grocery workers who have been working for the community this entire time, rather than having our workers compete with every adult in the state for access to vaccines on May 1st. We are here, we are open, and willing to work with the Governor. There are pharmacies in most of our stores where we can get Grocery workers vaccinated quickly. We just need her to come to the table.”