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COVID vaccinations slow, but still being given locally


January 20, 2021

The state of Oregon experienced vaccine whiplash last week after promises of additional vaccines from the federal government failed to materialize.

“I am shocked and appalled that the federal government would set an expectation with the American people on which they knew they could not deliver with such grave consequences,” said Gov. Kate Brown in a Jan. 15 press conference.

But vaccinations are still being administered in Linn County, with a new facility set up at the Fairgrounds.

Brown called last week’s meeting after U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar had urged states to vaccinate the elderly more widely on Jan. 12 with the promise that HHS would release its reserved second doses of COVID vaccine.

On Jan. 15, Brown tweeted that she had learned the reserves did not actually exist.

“States will not be receiving increased shipments of vaccines from the national stockpile next week, because there is no federal reserve of doses,” she wrote.

The plans to expedite vaccinations for the elderly and teachers and begin both groups on Jan. 23 then vanished. Instead, Brown announced that teachers across the state will begin getting vaccines on Jan. 25, and the elderly will begin vaccinations on Feb. 8, starting just with those over 80 years old.

The Oregon Health Authority expects to have vaccinated 56% of the people in the 1a category by Jan. 25. That group includes health care workers, first responders, and residents and staff in long-term care facilities. OHA Director Pat Allen said those numbers should be up to 75% of that population by Jan. 30, if current trends hold.

In Sweet Home, Samaritan plans to give the COVID vaccine to staff and residents at Wiley Creek on Tuesday, Jan. 19.

The vaccines are more than 94% effective at preventing the virus, and nearly 100% effective in preventing severe and deadly cases, according to current statistics.

The next groups will take a bit longer now that fewer vaccines will be available than expected, Allen said. “We have far more educators and seniors than we have doses per week.”

There are approximately 100,000 education and childcare workers in Oregon, he said, and 800,000 seniors over 65 years old.

Seniors will be vaccinated in waves based on age, he said. The risk of fatality from COVID-19 increases with age, so those 80 years and older will get the vaccine first, starting Feb. 8. Then those 75 and up will get access, followed by 70+, and finally 65+.

“While we want to vaccinate seniors as soon as we can, our ability to immunize this vulnerable population depends on getting enough doses from the federal government,” Allen said. “We must have the supplies we’ve been promised.”

OHA’s vaccination distribution has increased dramatically in recent weeks, particularly because of a large distribution site established at the state fairgrounds in Salem. The National Guard has mobilized to assist with vaccine distribution, and similar large distribution sites and even mobile units are in the works.

Oregon has administered 204,973 vaccines out of 335,075 doses available in Oregon, or approximately 61%. Allen said reporting on vaccine distribution tends to lag by a few days, however, and Oregon is typically reaching more than 12,000 doses administered each day since Jan. 12.

The Linn County Health Department has begun administering doses at the Linn County fairgrounds with the help of Samaritan Health. Those eligible for the vaccine can schedule an appointment at, then report to the fairgrounds to receive their dose.

That will be only those in group 1a until Jan. 25, then teachers can begin receiving it. Then, after Feb. 8, those over 80 can sign up to get vaccinated.

Asked last week why teachers are being put ahead of vulnerable seniors, Brown pointed to reports of suicidal pre-teens struggling to deal with online schooling.

She also defended her approach for helping the most vulnerable seniors, who live in long-term care and got access to the vaccine at the same time as health workers.

“Oregon has done, from a national perspective, a remarkable job of protecting our seniors,” she said.

Additionally, Allen explained that Oregon has managed to get additional doses out of vials of vaccine, although the amount of doses is often unpredictable.

Because of this, and because the vaccine is only stable for a few hours after a vial’s seal is broken, some outside of the 1a category have received the vaccine.

“You’ve got these open vaccines that now have a lifespan of hours, not days, and we need to use that dose,” Allen said. “Systems have done a really great job of finding almost anybody to vaccinate so we don’t lose that dose.”

Such cases have occurred in Sweet Home, when first responders received vaccines on Jan. 6. There were several extra doses available after each firefighter and officer available got the vaccine, so those in the room for other reasons also got the shot, or called relatives to come and take a dose.

Still, the best word to describe the vaccine rollout at this time is “scarcity.”

“Everyone everywhere in the state is going to accurately feel that they can administer more vaccine than they have been allocated,” Allen said.

“We must have the supplies we’ve been promised. We have more interest than we have vaccines available.”

Meanwhile, in East Linn County, weekly COVID cases have dropped slightly from a record high in the weeks after Thanksgiving, but still have not returned to the lower levels seen going into last fall. Sweet Home now consistently sees more than a dozen cases a week, with 24 new cases the week ending Jan. 12. Prior to Nov. 25, there was never a week with more than 10 cases in the 97386 zip code.

Additionally, testing indicated the first known case of the U.K. variant of the COVID-19 virus in Oregon on Jan. 15. That variant is significantly more contagious than the previous strain, although there isn’t any evidence that it’s more severe otherwise.

The newly approved vaccine is expected to work on the new variant as well as the old variant.


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