Kate Brown

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.

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Oregon seniors may receive doses of the COVID-19 vaccine faster than previously expected.

Thanks to additional planned doses of the vaccine to come from the federal government, Oregon has plans to speed up its statewide vaccination timeline, state health officials announced during a conference Feb 5.

The state’s now projecting three quarters of health care workers educational staff and seniors to become eligible within the next four weeks will have received a first dose of the vaccine by early April, about a month ahead of the state’s previous projection.

“This is really good news. However, we still have a long way to go,” said Oregon Governor Kate Brown.

A quicker timeline for vaccinating seniors means the state will be able to reach other groups sooner too, according to Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen.

“That’s good news for seniors. It’s also good news for frontline workers, people with underlying health conditions, and others who are next in line,” Allen said.

The new projection comes after federal health officials promised the state an increase in vaccine doses in the coming weeks, Allen said. He laid out the three factors which impact how quickly the state can distribute vaccine: The number of available doses, the size of the eligible population and the rate at which vaccination sites across the state could be distributing vaccine.

That third factor isn’t an issue, as Allen said the state could be vaccinating twice as many people as it currently is.

“That leaves supply and demand as the limiting factors,” Allen said.

According to Allen, new dose allocations announced by the federal government mean the state will see more than 75,000 doses of the vaccine a week. The increase includes 11,600 more doses a week in the state’s standard allocation, and 12,000 new doses a week through a federal pharmacy partnership program.

Starting the week of Feb. 8, Allen said the state will begin using 5,000 doses a week to vaccinate adults in custody in state prisons and county jails, as well as eligible youth in custody of the Oregon Youth Authority, in line with a federal court order issued Feb. 3 mandating the state vaccinate prisoners.

There could be more improvements on the horizon, too, as Allen said the state’s timeline doesn’t take into account the possibility of a third vaccine, produced by Johnson & Johnson, which could enter the supply chain by early March pending federal approvals.

Still, despite the accelerated distribution projection, Friday’s press conference wasn’t all good news. The announcement came the same day the state announced its 2,000th virus-related death.

“Each life lost to this horrible virus is one too many. I know each number here is someone’s mother or father, child, best friend or colleague,” Brown said. “It’s difficult, and it’s heartbreaking, and my thoughts are with each of these families.”

What’s more, the health officials are preparing for difficulties over the next several weeks, when hundreds of thousands more Oregonians are in line for a relatively short supply of vaccines.

“Next week, when seniors begin to become eligible, we will see some degree of chaos,” Allen said Friday. “Next week, many older adults will inevitably voice frustration. Next week, you will not have to look hard to see people experiencing confusion. We will fall short.”

The smooth rollout of vaccines to Oregon’s elderly will require patience and understanding, he emphasized. He noted that not everyone who becomes eligible will get a vaccine right away, but may have to wait several weeks to move to the front of the line.

“As we’ve said all along, our limitation isn’t capacity,” Allen said. “It’s supply.”

Some pharmacies across the state will soon have doses of the vaccine to administer to eligible individuals, Allen said. That’ll be one option for seniors to get vaccinated, alongside vaccine clinics, local public health authorities and long-term care facilities.

According to the state’s vaccination timeline, individuals 80 and older will be eligible for vaccines Feb. 8. Those 75 and older will be eligible on Feb. 15, and those 70 and up will be eligible on Feb. 22. On March 1, anyone 65 or older will be eligible for a vaccine.

Health officials have developed several methods for getting information about getting a vaccine. The state’s covidvaccine.oregon.gov website contains general information about the vaccine and vaccination eligibility.

Starting Feb. 8, that website will be home to a “Get Vaccinated Oregon” tool developed to help individuals determine their eligibility for a vaccine, find vaccination events across the state and register for alerts about their eligibility.

The tool won’t guarantee a place in line, as vaccination appointments are made by vaccine providers.

People call also text “ORCOVID” to 898211 to get text updates about nearby clinics in English and Spanish, or email ORCOVID@211info.org with questions.

As a last resort, statewide vaccine eligibility information is available by calling 211 or 866-698-6155, though officials caution that wait times may be very long given the high call volume, and Allen suggested seniors should wait until their age group is eligible before reaching out for more information.

“I’m asking older Oregonians for patience, in exchange for this promise: While it will take time, every senior who wants to get vaccinated will get a vaccine in the coming weeks,” Allen said.

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