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State to ramp up COVID-19 vaccinations
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State to ramp up COVID-19 vaccinations

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Two questions are weighing heavily on the minds of many Mid-Valley residents:

When will I be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination?

How will I be notified?

But the answers may not satisfy anyone not associated with health care if they think they are next in what likely will be a long line.

Oregon Health Authority officials Friday said it could be months — perhaps as late as fall — before members of the general public will receive vaccinations. State guidelines are shifting nearly daily as new information about the COVID-19 pandemic becomes known.

And when the time comes, people most likely will be notified by their local public health department, but details are still being worked out.

Friday morning, Gov. Kate Brown and Patrick Allen of the Oregon Health Authority held a video press conference to address what has admittedly been a slower-than-expected roll out of vaccinations. The state had set a goal of 12,000 vaccinations per day, but the actual number is about one-quarter of that goal.

Allen and Brown said they are doubling down on the 12,000 daily shots goal, which they hope to begin meeting by later this week.

Brown said “all hands are on deck”, knowing many people are suffering from “pandemic fatigue” as we near its one-year mark.

Brown said the National Guard has been called in to assist providers such as Salem Health, which has started mass vaccination clinics at the Oregon State Fairgrounds. Some 10,000 doses have been allocated to the project.

“Our goal is 250 shots per hour,” Brown said. “We are encouraged by this effort to help us achieve critical mass of herd immunity.”

Phased approach

Earlier in the week, Brown and Oregon Health Authority announced plans to widen the number of people eligible for vaccinations in phase 1A to include dentists, chiropractors, veterinarians and other medical staffers, as well as people who work in developmental disability and behavioral facilities.

Educators have been moved into the 1B category, so schools can begin reopening statewide, Brown said.

Brown said the effects of holiday travel on the spread of the virus is not yet known.

“A second surge may be on its way,” Brown said. “We must continue to sacrifice every day to fight this pandemic. Each day we are vaccinating more Oregonians.”

Oregon Health Authority officials reported that as of Friday 88,362 first and second doses of the vaccines had been administered.

Allen said that Oregon is about in the middle of the pack among all 50 states in terms of number of vaccinations.

“We are 36th with a vaccination rate of 1.5% compared to 1.3% in California and 1.6% in Washington,” Allen said. “Some 25 states have rates between 1.3% and 1.8%.”

But Allen said, “It’s not good enough to be in the middle of the pack. We know the vaccines are the most reliable way to prevent becoming infected or infecting someone close to you.”

Allen said the state is going to increase the vaccination rate by getting more doses into the hands of local providers.

“We have allocated doses to 190 sites and we’re going to deliver to 30 more next week,” Allen said. “Those include hospitals, urgent care clinics and pharmacies. We don’t do the actual deliveries, the vaccines come from the federal government or manufacturers.”

Allen said OHA staff has contacted more than 100 providers to determine their abilities to get vaccinations moving.

“We are going to allocate the most vaccines to the providers who prioritize their use within seven days,” Allen said.

Working with pharmacies

The state is also creating partnerships with pharmacies and has allocated almost 20,000 doses expected to ship within the next two weeks.

It’s been three weeks since the first round of Samaritan Health Services employees received their first vaccinations. They began receiving their second shots Friday. The second round of shots makes the vaccination about 95% effective, officials say.

Samaritan Health Services has partnered with public health departments in Linn, Benton and Lincoln counties to set up vaccination projects in Albany, Corvallis and Lincoln City.

“We are excited about these partnerships,” President and CEO Doug Boysen said. “We will distribute almost 2,000 doses on Monday.”

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Boysen said he hopes there will soon be enough doses to start the mass vaccination programs.

Boysen said he and his staff “are not content to hoard the vaccines. We want to get them out as quickly as we can. It will become more efficient when we start receiving information about how many doses are coming and when they will arrive on a regular basis.”

Boysen said Samaritan has no control over those issues, nor how the state prioritizes which segments of the public will receive vaccines and in what order.

Dr. Adam Brady, who heads up Samaritan’s COVID-19 task force, said Samaritan has provided as many as 400 to 500 vaccinations per day and as of Friday, had administered 3,148 doses.

The system has received about 7,100 doses for first shots and another 1,950 doses for second shots.

Logistical issues

Brady said the key reason rollout has been slower than anticipated is “logistics” coordinating the arrival of vaccine doses and matching them to the number of recipients available. The vaccines must be thawed before use and have a limited shelf life once thawed.

Samaritan officials said that at times there hasn’t been “clear instructions from the Oregon Health Authority” and the project comes when there is reduced staffing.

Dr. Robert Turngren, Samaritan’s chief medical officer, said that the statewide shot priority system is not necessarily “a friend” when dealing with a pandemic and trying to vaccinate the masses. The priorities make sense, but it makes it difficult to proceed if the slices are too thin. The swath of priorities need to be wider.”

Turngren said it’s also vital that the general public be vaccinated.

“We believe the vaccines are safe and effective,” Turngren said. “We encourage everyone to get vaccinated when their time comes.”

Brady echoed Turngren’s sentiments.

“It’s important we are all on the same page about this,” Brady said.

Todd Noble, director of the Linn County Public Health Department, said Linn and Benton counties have been vaccinating first responders — firefighters, EMTS and law enforcement in Albany, Lebanon, Sweet Home and Corvallis — in the past week.

Linn County received 100 doses of vaccines last week and another 100 doses this week.

Noble said he has been advocating that Linn County receive as many doses of the vaccines as possible and “we will make it work. We hope to be able to set up a mass vaccination process at the Linn County Fair & Expo Center like we have done with COVID-19 testing.”

Noble said his staff is also working with area school superintendents to develop a plan to vaccinate teachers and other staffers.

“There are about 7,000 educators in the county,” Noble said. “We are meeting weekly with superintendents. This will take a lot of planning.”

“Oregon has not received as many vaccinations as we had hoped,” Noble said. “I’m extremely happy with our partnership with Samaritan. We hope that over the next couple weeks we can get every dose we get into the arms of local people within 48 hours. We want to get it out there.”

Corvallis Clinic CEO James Kaech said his health care organization — which has 613 employees — has received 200 vaccine doses and they have administered them to the highest-risk staff members.

“We have developed a scoring system based on the state guidelines,” Kaech said.

Kaech said Corvallis Clinic has received the Morderna vaccine.

“We’re vaccinating people a couple hours every day,” Kaech said. “We are staggering people by departments, so in case someone has a reaction, we aren’t short-handed. That has not occurred.”

Kaech said there has been a strong commitment of cooperation among health providers in Benton County.

“We don’t have enough vaccines yet, but the county has been great at getting more and Samaritan has helped us out as well,” Kaech said. “Our entire community is working together to get medical staff vaccinated. We are preparing to make a difference.”

Kaech added, “We understand the total impact on the state and to the whole area. We’re understanding and just want to follow guidelines and do this as quickly and safely as we can.”

Kaech praised the Corvallic Clinic’s incident command team Helen Lee, Director of Clinical Services and Education/Clinic Lead Director and Tavis Cowan, MD, Medical Director for Occupational Medicine, for heading up the vaccination program.

Lebanon Fire District staff received vaccinations Wednesday.

Chief Joseph Rodondi said his staff members are “often the first healthcare providers that COVID-19 positive patients see. Often times we will go out on a call and not find out for several days afterwards if the patient was positive or not. This vaccine, along with our required Personal Protective Equipment, will be crucial to keeping our emergency service workers healthy and able to respond to emergencies. We are very excited to be able to protect our employees, and by doing so protect our citizens of the district.”

As of Friday, Oregon has recorded 124,476 cases and 1,603 deaths.

Linn County has had 2,921 cases and 36 deaths; Benton County has had 1,541 cases and 12 deaths and Lincoln County has had 947 cases and 17 deaths.

Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.

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