Under pressure from federal officials, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday that she will allow all Oregons 65 and older to be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations from Jan. 23.
On her own, Brown also said she would allow child care, preschool and K-12 school staff to start receiving vaccinations along with the older group.
Brown’s decision to extend vaccinations to older Oregons was in response to a call by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar earlier in the day that all states begin vaccinating Americans 65 or older and people with underlying conditions who put those at higher risk for serious complications from COVID-1
Brown does not plan to prioritize Oregons with underlying conditions at this time given the large number of them, estimated at 1.6 million, said Charles Boyle, a spokesman for the governor.
“At this time, there are not nearly enough vaccines available for the large number of people,” Boyle said in an email to The Oregonian / OregonLive. “But we want to work with stakeholders to develop outreach and distribution plans so we are ready to start vaccinating Oregons with underlying health conditions as more vaccines become available.
Brown stated that there is only one caveat to roll out the vaccines to elderly residents and educators – that the federal government is sending more vaccines as promised. Boyle said he does not know how many more vaccines are coming to Oregon.
“While this is an unexpected change of course from the federal government, receiving more vaccines is welcome news for states – and Oregon is ready to devote all necessary resources to strengthening distribution with our health partners,” Brown said in a written statement.
Brown offered no details on where Oregonians, who will soon be eligible, can go to be grafted. Heads of state are still working on a system to get the information out.
“If you are an Oregonian newly eligible for vaccination, I ask for your patience,” Brown continued. “Please do not call your doctor or healthcare provider with questions about when you can be vaccinated. Today’s news arrived without prior notice from the federal government. Oregon health care providers are working as quickly as humanly possible to shift their vaccine distribution plans to address this sudden change in national guidance. ”
It is unclear how many residents the new extended guidelines will cover. Currently, the state has allowed an estimated 500,000 Oregons to be vaccinated as part of Phase 1a. This mostly includes health care workers and residents in long-term care facilities, but allows others, including prison and prison staff and veterinary staff.
The governor did not say how many childcare, preschool and K-12 workers there are in the state. According to U.S. census data, there are about 767,000 people aged 65 and over in Oregon. A maximum of 21,000 of them were already eligible as part of Phase 1a because they live in long-term care facilities.
A sharp increase in the pool of eligible vaccine recipients will put a huge strain on an already overtaxed vaccination system in the state. According to the state, 115,060 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have made it to the arms of residents out of 321,425 doses that the CDC says have been sent to Oregon so far. This means that about 36% of the available stock has been used – a significant improvement from the 25% that had been used about a week ago.
But vaccinations have gone much slower than expected back on December 16, when the first vaccines were injected into healthcare professionals. Oregon’s initial rollout has been plagued by inefficient planning, but state officials say reforms are underway.
Over the past week, an average of 7,600 doses have been administered each day. The governor has set a goal of 12,000 per. Day next week, but acknowledged that the pace should accelerate significantly in the coming weeks.
Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, has said at 12,000 daily shots a day, and it would take well into 2022 to inoculate 70% of the state’s population – approx. 3 million people – with the two-dose regimen of the vaccines. Seventy percent is the minimum that some public health experts say is necessary to achieve herd immunity, which is the point at which the virus is severely prevented from spreading easily throughout society.
In addition to pressure from the federal government, Brown had received harsh criticism from some residents for – until Tuesday – saying that early education and K-12 staff would get the vaccine started as early as mid-February, while she would make no such decisions yet on older Oregons.
They have the highest risk of death from COVID-19 or life-changing and lasting effects. More than 80% of dead Americans are 65 years and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the last week, 85% of the 110 Oregons who died of the disease last week were 65 years or older.
The Oregon Education Association, the union representing 44,000 educators, did not push the governor to prioritize educators before seniors. Union President John Larson said seniors are at greater risk of dying than the total educator population. He also said that even though all school staff have been vaccinated, he does not believe that classrooms should be opened because students will not be. The vaccines are not approved for children under the age of 16 and they could bring it home to their families, he said.
“Putting the safety of students and staff at risk so that people can be left in person is simply irresponsible,” Larson said.
The only educators Larson said he believes need to be vaccinated now are those who have already been pushed back into their classrooms in a select number of school districts.
Tuesday’s news that Brown will soon open vaccinations for seniors was celebrated with cheers by many senior Oregons.
This is a story that is evolving. Go back to OregonLive.com for updates.
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– Aimee Green; firstname.lastname@example.org; @o_aimee