As the community anticipates a post-pandemic return to normalcy, all eyes are on the golden ticket — aka the COVID-19 vaccine.
But movement is slow, across the nation and locally as well. Oregon is still at the beginning phases of vaccine distribution, and is a ways off from Gov. Kate Brown’s goal to have 12,000 vaccines administered daily. The logistics and strict sequence of distribution further bog down the process. Though local governments and health providers want to move quickly, they cannot control the number of vaccines they receive — meaning it might take a while before it’s your turn to get vaccinated.
“We want to get people vaccinated as soon as possible,” says Jason Davis, public information officer for Lane County Public Health (LCPH). Davis adds that as soon as the county receives doses, it is getting them out. “We are not sitting on any doses.”
Oregon is administering its vaccines through a tier of different phases and subphases, focusing on health care workers first, then moving onto those who are high risk or older age. Initially, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) also specified four groups within each subphase, but relaxed those guidelines after realizing this was slowing down the process. On Jan. 12, Brown announced that anyone over age 65 as well as K-12 educators and staff would qualify to receive a vaccine.
The entire state is in phase 1A, which vaccinates all health care and long-term care workers. Next up is phase 1B, which includes critical workers in high-risk settings, people in detention centers and others who have underlying conditions and are at a moderately high risk. OHA has not yet listed details about phase 1C or phase 2.
Davis explains that though Lane County has experience with mass vaccinations, as with the H1N1 virus, the COVID-19 vaccination distribution is different because of the equity framework the state has set in place for vaccinating. This strategy, he explains, isn’t meant to vaccinate many people in one day, but is structured around equity by prioritizing individual risk and exposure.
“The reason it’s going slow, especially in Oregon, is because we are following strict sequencing that requires strict administrative support and time,” he says.
Many residents are wondering when their turn will come and how they will know where to go. Davis says there isn’t yet an accurate timeline for future phases. He adds that for phase 1A the county has used social media, sent health notifications to people’s emails and mass media messaging to get out the word of who is currently eligible.
“We are still solidly in 1A,” Davis explains. “When we are able to see the end of 1A we will start announcing where our mass vaccination locations will be.” He also recommends visiting the county COVID-19 website, which has information on which phase the county is in and which groups are eligible for vaccinations.
The county is focused on filling in distribution gaps; that worked well with last week’s allotment of 1,200 doses from OHA. But on Jan. 11, LCPH received only 100 vaccines from the state in the weekly vaccine allotment. During an online public health update, Davis said this was less than what LaneCounty had asked for, as the county holds 10 percent of the state’s population.
He explained that local urgent care Nova Health received a surplus and agreed to give some of its vaccines to Lane County. “Our priority starting yesterday is to advocate on behalf of Lane County and make sure the state understands the frustration.”
PeaceHealth is another local care provider administering vaccines to its workers during the first phase.
“We are learning as we do this, nobody’s done this before,” says Dr. Jim McGovern, COVID-19 incident commander and vice president of medical affairs for PeaceHealth Oregon.
He says PeaceHealth is working with McKenzie Willamette Medical Center, LCPH and other public medical offices in determining how the vaccine can best be distributed to the community.
“The intent for everybody is to get this out as quickly as possible,” McGovern says. “And when OHA realized that some of their structure was slowing things down a bit, they adjusted.”
McGovern also addressed some general misconceptions about PeaceHealth’s role in administering the vaccine. He clarified that their employees who don’t see patients are still getting vaccinated. Initially, they were told to do direct-care workers first, but with OHA allowing for flexibility, McGovern says it was important to vaccinate everyone involved in order for the medical center to function.
He adds that there have been rumors that PeaceHealth is wasting vaccines, which he says is untrue.
“We have not wasted any doses,” McGovern says. “We are cognizant of how valuable this is. We make sure if we puncture a vial it gets used.” Each vial holds about 10 doses.
Looking ahead, PeaceHealth plans to be involved in the broader, mass vaccination process, McGovern says, adding there is still ambiguity on what that will look like, as governing institutions have never had something like this happen on a mass scale.
Though it’s easy to feel optimistic, there is still a long road ahead until a majority of individuals are vaccinated, even just in Oregon. As of Jan. 8, Lane County — which has a population of about 380,000 — had vaccinated roughly 6,000 people.
“Every week the story is going to change dramatically,” Davis says.
For more information on statewide vaccination plans visit CovidVaccine.Oregon.gov. To learn about local vaccination efforts visit LaneCounty.org/CovidVaccine.