In a quick about-face from just a week earlier, Oregon health officials announced Friday they would be meeting President Joe Biden’s May 1 deadline to open COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all adults.
“My team is in touch with the White House for more specifics about when vaccine shipments to states will increase,” said Governor Kate Brown in a press conference. “We have always attempted to align our vaccination timelines with available federal supplies. And so far, it’s been really encouraging to see so many Oregonians eager to get the vaccine when it’s their turn.”
The news came informally earlier in the week, when Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen told Oregon Public Broadcasting the agency had determined the president’s timeline was an order, not just an optimistic suggestion.
Just a week prior, Allen and other state officials were hesitant to embrace the president’s timeline, concerned about whether or not vaccine supply would be available to meet it.
“The answer is yes, if the federal government comes through at the levels of vaccines we’ve projected based on the national numbers the administration has released,” Allen said. “We know it will take a couple of weeks to get through the surge. But we can keep pace.”
The quicker pace — the state had originally been on track to open eligibility to all adults July 1 — means the rest of the state’s vaccination timeline is also moving up.
But Allen said Friday the new timeline will result in some “traffic jams” when large classes of people become eligible for the vaccine.
“However, I want to be crystal clear. Not every Oregonian will have a vaccination appointment waiting for them,” the director said. “It’ll take a few weeks for supply to catch up to demand.”
Still, health officials laid out a new timeline for making Oregonians eligible to get in line for the vaccine.
Starting March 22, vaccinations will open slightly:
- Counties that attest to largely completing the vaccination of residents 65 and older may begin vaccinating the next eligible groups.
- Vaccinations may also begin for migrant and seasonal farmworkers in counties where they are currently already working.
Starting March 29, the following groups will be eligible:
- All adults 45-64 with underlying health conditions,
- Migrant and seasonal farm workers,
- Seafood and agricultural workers,
- Food processing workers,
- People living in low-income senior housing, senior congregate and independent living,
- Individuals experiencing homelessness,
- People currently displaced by wildfires,
- Wildland firefighters and
- Pregnant people 16 and older.
Starting April 19, the state will open eligibility to:
- Frontline workers as defined by the CDC,
- Multigenerational household members and
- Adults 16-44 with underlying health conditions.
And on May 1, the state will open vaccine eligibility to anyone 16 and older, according to OHA.
A complete list of eligibility guidelines will be available on the state’s website at covidvaccine.oregon.gov. The state’s Get Vaccinated Oregon tool, which assists residents in many areas in finding and registering for vaccination appointments, is also available on the site.
According to Allen, OHA isn’t setting explicit benchmarks for which counties can move forward in vaccine eligibility at the March 22 phase, saying instead the agency will rely on each county to make that attestation to the state. Several counties have already done so, he said.
“So we think that county commissioners, in consultation with their public health departments, are in the best position to assess things like, are appointments filling up quickly or not, or have they reached hard-to-reach populations. So we’ll simply take that attestation,” Allen said.
Some counties are already well ahead of others in vaccinating seniors. Allen pointed to Deschutes County in Central Oregon where 7 in ten seniors have already been vaccinated, compared to just under 60% statewide.
“We don’t want appointment slots left unfilled next week,” Allen said.
The state’s new timelines are predicated on big promises from the federal government.
By early April, the state will need to receive around 250,000 first doses of the vaccine each week in order to make every adult eligible by May 1, Allen said.
What’s more, the state will need to ramp up the speed at which it gets shots in arms: Currently, the state does around 25,000 shots a day, and Allen said it’ll likely need to double that to hit the new benchmarks
Still, health officials Friday were optimistic about the high-speed vaccination effort, saying the state should have enough vaccine supply to give all adults in Oregon at least one shot by the end of May.
It’s a much different picture than just weeks ago, when the same health officials predicted that benchmark might not occur until late summer or early fall.
“Now it’s possible every adult in Oregon could be vaccinated within ten weeks,” Allen said Friday. “That’s an extraordinary turn around, but every Oregonian needs to continue to do his or her part and get vaccinated. We can starve the virus of new people to infect.”