PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — When it comes to determining the most effective way to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine in Oregon, experts at Oregon State University have different ideas.
At a forum on vaccine distribution Tuesday, five experts from OSU discussed everything from who should be prioritized to what’s the best way to encourage vaccination among skeptics. Most of the experts, including Dr. Courtney Campbell, director for the OSU Program in Medical Humanities, felt Oregon’s phased method of vaccinating healthcare workers and vulnerable populations first was a smart move.
“We’re in the circumstance of scarcity. We don’t have enough to go around, so we have to make determinations about priorities,” he said. “If you vaccinate people who are really at minor risk as part of the general population, people that are at higher risk are potentially going to lose out.”
Daniel López-Cevallos, associate professor of ethnic studies who focuses on health disparities, agrees the prioritization is needed, but he also feels it’s slowing down the process. He pointed out that other states, like New Jersey and Virginia, have broadened who’s now eligible to get the vaccine. He’d like to see Oregon do the same and believes it would make distribution more efficient.
“The ultimate purpose is to give those vaccines to the public, so once we’ve checked that 1A at a particular community or a particular hospital system, then the policy’s flexible enough to where other groups then, 1B or 2, can be vaccinated,” López-Cevallos said.
Oregon is behind about 70 percent of other U.S. states when it comes to vaccinating its population, according to information from the Associated Press. As of Jan. 11, only 2.3% of Oregonians had received the vaccine. Data show there have been 316,550 vaccines distributed to the state, but only 97,024 have been administered.
Elizabeth Marino, is an associate professor of anthropology at OSU-Cascades. She’s been working with the city of Bend and Deschutes County on a messaging campaign about the vaccine to reach populations most at risk. She said right now, with the high levels of distrust of government and scientific institutions there’s extreme polarization on whether people plan to get the vaccine.
Although there isn’t much local data to work with currently, Marino said national surveys show messages about the responsibility of taking care of one’s family and patriotic messages tend to resonate with people who lean toward Republican and Liberatarian politics. So, these are things she’s taking into consideration.
“We think that it’s not just education strategy that we need to sort of overcome that distrust, that that one-way communication from public health facilities is not going to be as successful as trying to really create this back-and-forth dialogue between these communities that have distrust in these public institutions,” she said.
Associate professor in the College of Pharmacy Gaurav Sahay said he understands people want to know all the information they possibly can about the vaccine right now, but the reality is it’s a new vaccine and there still are things they don’t know. Some people are wondering if it’s possible for those vaccinated to contract the virus, not show symptoms, and then spread it to others. Sahay said while this may be possible, the vaccine is still the best line of defense.
“By giving these vaccines, we are giving herd immunity and preventing the spread and basically boxing in the virus,” he said. “The majority of people who are getting [the vaccine] aren’t getting the virus and that’s how we’re boxing it in.”
Overall, all five experts who spoke on the OSU forum agreed Oregonians should trust the vaccine. Although the distribution process has been slow, Joe Agor, who specializes in analyzing healthcare data, said Oregon’s phased process will work.
“There is a structure and a purpose to the rollout of this vaccine,” he said. “This phased rollout, helps us learn how we can best not only accommodate for the equity that OHA’s focused on, but also how to best efficiently manage it so that we don’t waste it.”