Oregon officials tell seniors to brace for vaccination bottlenecks


Oregon is about to give a shot in the arm to its seniors, but Gov. Kate Brown cautioned Oregonians on Friday the process may require a lot of patience.

Starting on Monday, Oregon will be vaccinating seniors ages 80 and up two weeks after educators began receiving theirs in January. Once more shots start going into thousands more arms, Brown said the event is likely to create a lot of “chaos and confusion” as clinics are left with few doses to go around.

“We are still managing a scarce resource,” Brown said. “There will be hiccups in this process, but we are going to get through them. I’m asking seniors to be patient, but you will get a vaccine.”

To that end, Brown announced on Friday she is assigning 30 National Guard members to field phone calls from Oregonian seniors dialing 211 for information.

Since beginning its phased vaccine rollout last last year, Oregon has concentrated its efforts on nine groups within the first two tiers of its ongoing Phase 1.

Phase 1a includes four groups starting with health care workers followed by people living and working in long-term care and correctional facilities. Next are medical responders, then people providing or receiving at-home care.

In Phase 1b are five groups which include teachers and school staff followed by seniors ages 80 and up, then seniors ages 75, 70, and 65.

Phase 1a is estimated to include some 400,000 people while Phase 1b is thought to include about 105,000 educators and 795,000 seniors.

On Monday, the state's COVID-19 vaccine website will add a new tool—Get Vaccinated Oregon—to help people determine eligibility and to sign up for email alerts and text notifications when they become eligible.

Brown has summed up the situation as a problem of supply and demand, one the Biden administration has vowed to fix by boosting vaccine allocations to the states by as much as 20% as soon as next week.

For Oregon, that will mean an increase of 55,000 first doses a week to 75,000 first doses a week. Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen said in late January that Oregon's allocation was averaging at about 50,000 doses per week.

States will also receive advance notice of their promised vaccine shipments three weeks in advance as part of an effort to streamline planning and distribution.

Oregon Health Authority vaccination lead and chief financial officer Dave Baden said the state will have enough first doses on hand for about 75% of Oregon’s population ages 65 and up by early April.

Once 75% of people ages 65 and up have gotten their first dose of the vaccine, other groups will be eligible to schedule appointments.

As of Friday, Oregon's vaccine rollout is one of the faster in the nation with about 9% of its 4.2 million residents having received one vaccine dose and about 3% of the populace receiving their second and final doses, according to the CDC's COVID Tracker.

On Friday, Allen said the state is administering an average of about 16,000 shots per day and hit an all-time record of 24,000 shots on January 29.

State officials now anticipate the big boost will help open up vaccinations to the general public by sometime in July.

That prospect does not take into account the COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, which requires one dose and does not require ultra-cold storage.

The vaccine is estimated to be 66% effective at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19 symptoms 28 days after administration based on clinical trial data. It is also thought to be 85% effective in preventing hospitalization and death from the virus.

Submitted to the FDA on Thursday for emergency approval, this latest vaccine is slated for a vote by the agency on Feb. 26 after which Oregon would begin receiving its first doses. J&J anticipates 12 million could be ready this month.

As of Friday, there were more than double the number of people in the process of being vaccinated against the virus than those who contracted it to date, OHA data showed.

The state health agency reported 145,320 Oregonians have come down with COVID-19 since last spring and 1,998 have died from the virus.

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