PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Governor Kate Brown defended her decision to prioritize teachers over seniors for the COVID vaccine, even though it was a difficult choice.
“School is so much more than a place kids go to learn,” she said during a Friday press conference.
But the Oregon Association of Hospitals & Health Systems strongly disagrees with her decision.
“We are deeply concerned that the Governor, by expanding eligibility to teachers and other school employees in addition to seniors aged 65 and older, is increasing demand for the vaccine far beyond available supply in some regions,” said OAHHS President/CEO Becky Hultberg. “Since the state does not control the vaccine supply, Oregonians are being asked to take it on faith that the state can keep to the Governor’s timeline.”
Hultberg said Oregonians need to understand the supply of the vaccine may not be able to keep up with demand. “Hospitals are constrained by the available supply and are obligated to focus on the Governor’s prioritized eligibility list,” she said.
Next week most of the vaccine supply will go to teachers. Hultberg said it’ll take “several weeks” to get the teachers in the Portland metro vaccinated — and that doesn’t include vaccinating the rest of the people in Phase 1A.
“Adding 80-year-olds on February 8 and then other age bands in the weeks after that will compound this problem,” she said. “At 15,000 doses a week in the Portland metro area, we should all be honest about the fact that there will be significant wait times for vaccines and that completing our efforts will take many, many months unless supply increases.”
Hultberg said that while Brown’s timeline aims to vaccinate all eligible adults over 65 by the end of February, the reality is that vaccine supply may not be available to those groups until May.
People in the Portland metro area “in a prioritized population” likely won’t get vaccinated for weeks or months, she said. And she asked people not to call hospitals.
“A couple of weeks ago when the governor announced that the over-65 population would be eligible, our hospitals were overwhelmed with phone calls with people trying to understand how they could get the vaccine. Some of those people were frustrated and they were angry that hospitals couldn’t provide it,” said Hultberg, who added that hospitals are doing the best they can with the supply they’ve been given and the state’s directions.
Oregon Center for Nursing spokesperson Jana Bitton said nurses are already working long hours caring for patients.
“When it comes to the vaccination distribution, I think an important thing to remember that nurses and other healthcare workers are pretty tired,” she said.
Bitton said more nursing students, retired nurses and volunteers might need to be recruited to help with larger vaccination clinics or distribution when more doses do become available for those eligible groups.
“If we are going to actually be able to get through the herd immunity or getting all the Oregonians vaccinated that we need to, we are going to need a volunteer workforce,” she said.
But for now, Hultberg said hospitals can’t move any faster until more vaccine shipments are sent to the state.
“Until then, we’re going to have to be patient,” she said.