Oregon speeds up vaccine timeline following federal guidance


Oregon is abiding by President Joe Biden's vaccine timeline, but that may mean speeding up its own rollout plans.

Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen announced earlier in the week that the state would indeed open up vaccine eligibility to the general public after May 1 after Gov. Kate Brown's remarks last week cast doubt on the prospect.

Previously, the state had pegged May 1 as the first day frontline workers such as grocery store employees, farmworkers, and members of the media were slated to become eligible.

Starting March 29, Oregon farmworkers and food processors will be eligible to line up for shots alongside join pregnant women 16 and older, the homelessness, wildland firefighters and people living in low-income congregate housing, and those ages 45 through 64 with underlying health conditions.

By April 19, adults between the ages of 16 and 44 with underlying health conditions and those living in multi-generational housing will also be eligible for shots.

Oregon counties who have vaccinated the statistical majority of seniors 65 and older may start giving out shots for new eligible groups immediately, Brown's office announced. Counties are also encouraged to give out vaccinations for migrant and seasonal farmworkers in their county of work.

Health care workers and people in long-term care facilities were among the first to qualify for priority shots on December 12 under Oregon's Phase 1a. By January 25, the state of 4.2 million people opened up vaccinations for seniors and education staff under Phase 1b. Combined, those groups include some 1.3 million people.

May 1 will mark Phase 2, the last leg of the national vaccine rollout, but Allen warned on Friday that being eligible does not mean you may be first to snag an appointment.

“Not every Oregonian will have a vaccination appointment waiting for them,” Allen said. “It will take a while for supply to catch up to demand.”

Currently, more than a dozen mass vaccination sites have been set up around the state. Five pharmacy chains participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program in Oregon—Rite Aid, Safeway, Costco, Walgreens, and Health Mart—are also administering shots.

Scientists disagree what percentage of the population will need to be vaccinated to develop what is dubbed “herd immunity” or the stage where viral transmission is diminished. White House medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci says that figure could be around 75%. Others say it could be as high as 90%.

As of Friday, 13% of Oregonians have been fully vaccinated to date, according to the CDC's COVID Tracker, while another 22.6% are on their first dose.

As vaccinations increase around the country, the CDC has updated its guidelines cutting the recommended threshold for social distancing from six feet to just three feet in school classrooms. There is currently no COVID-19 vaccine approved for children under the age of 16.

Brown has ordered all schools around the state to fully reopen by mid-April and said on Friday her office is studying the CDC's new guidelines. She would not say on Friday whether she is preparing to address potential pushback from teachers unions.

“School districts will still need to have conversations at the local level to update their plans for a return to in-person instruction and go through their own decision-making processes,” Brown said. “But I do hope this helps get even more of our kids back into classrooms.”

Across Oregon, the pandemic is responsible for some 160,600 cases and 2,352 deaths to date. The state's 7-day rolling average was 295 last week and remains less than half the prior rate over the winter holidays. The state is now home to two COVID-19 strains discovered in the United Kingdom and Brazil thought to be more contagious than the primary version of virus.

Oregonians can learn more about their eligibility and schedule an appointment for a vaccination online here.

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