SALEM, Ore. – It could be many long months until the general public can line up to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
OHA Director Patrick Allen said in a press conference Friday that Oregonians could be waiting until this fall to receive their first dose.
"I think fall is a reasonable target based on what I think we understand about production and what I think we understand about potential other vaccines in the pipeline. But again, like I talked about earlier, we keep learning new things seemingly everyday about this virus so that projection could happen sooner or it could happen later," Allen said.
However, the Oregon National Guard has been deployed to help speed up the vaccination process in the state starting this weekend. Gov. Kate Brown said Guard members will be at the state fairgrounds in Salem for a mass vaccination event where the goal is to vaccinate 250 people every hour.
"We are deploying the National Guard to provide vaccination support starting this weekend with Salem Health's vaccination event at the state fairgrounds," Brown said. "Our guard members will be providing logistical and nursing support. The goal is to vaccinate 250 people per hour, vaccinating thousands of Oregonians."
So far only 1.5% of Oregonians have been vaccinated and 24% of the state's doses have been given out. Oregon has more than 250,000 doses available and only 74,000 have been given out.
Oregon is ranked 37th in the country for administering the vaccine. To help with that, the Oregon Health Authority is adjusting the way it allocates doses to vaccine administration sites starting next week.
“Sites with plans to administer the doses they receive within seven days are being prioritized. We will also prioritize sites with the commitment and capacity to deliver high volumes of the doses to health care workers, first responders, long-term care residents and other members of the phase 1a group,” Allen said.
For instance, the Oregon Health Authority is giving Salem Health 10,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to use at their mass vaccination clinic this weekend.
Brown said OHA has already delivered vaccines to 190 sites across the state and will allocate vaccines to 30 more by next week.
"OHA is working with health care providers, pharmacies, and local public health partners to make steady progress toward achieving our goal of 12,000 vaccines administered per day," said Brown.
On Thursday, Oregon's COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee met for the first time to discuss how critical workers and at-risk populations will be prioritized in the rollout. Health officials said after everyone in the phase 1a group is vaccinated, educators and other staff at pre-kindergarten to grade 12 schools and early learning centers will be the state's next immediate priority.
“It's absolutely vital to help our kids safely return to in-person instruction as soon as possible,” Brown said Friday. "We’ve seen across the world how schools can reopen with rigorous health protocols in place."
However, when Brown was asked why the state isn't following the CDC's recommendation that those who are over 75 and have major health conditions go before teachers, she said getting children back in the classroom is her priority.
"Look this is really challenging. We have seniors in congregate care facilities particularly in skilled nursing care and in memory units that are getting vaccinated as we speak. In terms of seniors that are living independently, I encourage them to continue taking precautions," Brown said.
Brown said educators and staff at community colleges and universities are in phase 1b. In terms of her rationale behind prioritizing early and high school educators over higher education, she said the impacts distance learning has had on young children has been challenging, as the vast majority of brain development happens in the first five years. That's why she believes getting young children back to the classroom is critical.
However, some people argue that older Oregonians who don't live in nursing homes should get prioritized given they're high risk.
Stay with KEZI 9 News for the latest on vaccine distribution and administration.