Oregon leaders blame federal government for derailing vaccine rollout


Gov. Kate Brown alleged on Friday that the federal government's broken promise to release the nation's stockpile of COVID-19 vaccines to the states has put Oregon in a challenging position.

During a Friday press briefing, Brown said she and health officials learned on Thursday the nation's vaccine reserves are bone dry. As a result, upcoming vaccine shipments bound for Oregon will not include increased doses, she said.

Oregon Health Authority (OHA) Director Patrick Allen told reporters on Friday the 200,000 doses expected in Oregon's next federal shipment has fallen to around 100,000.

The news follows a January 12 announcement from U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar that the federal government would be releasing its full reserve of vaccines to all 50 states.

A report by The Washington Post on Friday claims the Trump administration stopped stockpiling COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2020 and started shipping vaccines straight from manufacturing sites.

President-elect Joe Biden has promised to release any and all stockpiled vaccines to ramp up vaccinations following his inauguration on Tuesday, January 20.

Oregon's vaccine rollout is already lagging behind many others in the nation.

According to the CDC on Friday, Oregon has received 335,075 doses from Pfizer and Moderna to date. So far, the state has administered 146,153 of those doses or about 44% of its total stockpile. Those numbers place Oregon well ahead of Washington to the north which has administered about 35% of its COVID-19 vaccine stockpile.

Oregon's rollout is still behind a dozen states like Montana, Connecticut, West Virginia, and the Dakotas which have shelled out 50% or more of their vaccines.

Brown said on Friday she was informed by General Gustave Perna of the federal government's Operation Warp Speed that states will not get increased shipments of vaccines contrary to prior federal communications.

“I am demanding answers from the Trump administration,” Brown said. “I am shocked and appalled that they have set an expectation on which they could not deliver, with such grave consequences.”

In a letter to Azar from Thursday, Allen said the situation effectively derailed the state's plan to begin vaccinating some 800,000 Oregon seniors and education workers on January 23 as part of Oregon's upcoming Phase 1b.

“Earlier this evening, I joined a call with Governor Kate Brown and General Gustave Perna with Operation Warp Speed,” Allen wrote. “During that call, he informed us there is no reserve of doses, and we are already receiving the full allocation of vaccines. If true, this is extremely disturbing, and puts our plans to expand eligibility at grave risk.”

Brown said Friday that vaccinations for education workers will now begin on January 25 and for seniors ages 80 by February 8. Seniors age 75, 70, and 65 will be eligible in the weeks afterwards.

Unless vaccination rates increase in Oregon, Allen said, it could take as long as 12 weeks to vaccinate every Oregonian 65 and older.

Oregon is now just a month away from Brown's stated goal of reopening Oregon classrooms by February 15.

In December, Brown and other U.S. governors cited similar miscommunications with federal authorities regarding 40% reductions to their vaccine shipments.

Pfizer and Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines were approved for emergency use by the FDA in December.

They are reported to provide about 95% protection against the virus and require two doses administered over a span of about three and four weeks, respectively.

There is no maximum interval between doses, but how delayed shots may affect protection is unclear, the CDC reports.

This week, Allen said, the OHA reached its goal of administering 12,000 doses per day as directed by Brown two weeks ago. He added anyone receiving a first dose will have a second dose reserved.

Oregon has sought to expand its COVID-19 vaccination sites, which now include a recently opened vaccine clinic in Salem.

The Portland-area will also see the Oregon Convention Center distribute vaccines starting later in January with the help of four major health providers including Kaiser Permanente.

On Friday, the OHA reported 120,090 people out of Oregon's 4.2 million people received their first dose while 13,000 people have received their second dose.

Oregon is still working through Phase 1a of its vaccine rollout, which includes healthcare workers, people in long-term care facilities, prison staff, and inmates.

The OHA estimates Phase 1a could include up to 400,000 people, a majority of whom could be vaccinated as early as January 30, Allen said on Friday.

In coming weeks, the state also plans on hiring more vaccine workers according to Allen thanks to $38 million in federal aid the state is anticipating this month.

On Thursday, Oregon's COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee recommended refugees and adults ages 16 to 64 with chronic conditions as top candidates for Phase 1b vaccinations alongside seniors and teachers.

According to CDC data from Friday, some 1.6 million in the U.S. have received their second dose while 10.5 million people have received at least one dose.

Oregon has seen 131,258 cases and 1,758 deaths from COVID-19 to date, the OHA reports. Oregonians can learn more about their eligibility for vaccination on the OHA's website.

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