Appointments to receive the first doses for Umatilla County residents age 80 and over were snapped up quickly on Monday, Feb. 8.
Umatilla County Public Health announced on Friday, Feb. 5 it was scheduled to receive 400 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to begin vaccinating elderly residents next week as Oregonians over the age of 80 become eligible starting Sunday, Feb. 7. People could call for an appointment starting at 8 a.m. on Feb. 8 and by 10:30 a.m. that day the health department had already posted on its Facebook page that all appointments for the week had been filled.
According to Joe Fiumara, the county’s public health director, 100 doses were slated for Mirasol Family Health Center in Hermiston, 100 for Good Shepherd Medical Center in Hermiston, 100 for the county health department in Pendleton, and 100 to be distributed at the Milton-Freewater Community Building.
Appointments were required for Mirasol, Pendleton and Milton-Freewater.
Fiumara said on Friday, Feb. 5 that the supply is better than he feared the county would receive, but added that it’s not nearly enough to satisfy the roughly 2,500 residents who became eligible on Feb. 8.
“A lot of people are unhappy and frustrated, I know, because there’s only going to be about 400 of those folks who are going to be able to get a shot next week,” he said Friday.
The new doses come as Gov. Kate Brown announced in a press conference on Friday, Feb. 5, that the White House is planning to increase Oregon’s allotments of COVID-19 vaccine by 20% in the coming weeks.
The increase will ramp up vaccination efforts so that most of the state’s seniors, educators and health care workers will be fully vaccinated by May, a month earlier than previously anticipated, according to Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen.
Allen said the increase should allow the state to offer first doses to approximately 75% of all eligible seniors over the age of 65, educators, inmates, and Phase 1a members by April, when the state plans to open up eligibility to new groups, like essential workers and people with underlying health conditions.
Each week through February, a new group of elderly residents will become eligible to receive the vaccine, per state guidelines. People ages 75-79 will be eligible starting Sunday, Feb. 14, 70-74 starting Feb. 21, and 65-69 starting Feb. 28.
Fiumara estimates that between 3,000 to 4,000 additional county residents will become eligible each week. However, the county health department is expecting just 300 to 400 additional first doses from the state each week through February. Those doses don’t count the second doses that will still be available for people who already received their first.
For the next three weeks, Fiumara said he is expecting “a lot of calls, a lot of upset folks, a lot of frustration, and we won’t have an answer that will satisfy.”
Fiumara said the slow rollout is partly due to vaccines now being fast-tracked to the roughly 11,000 adults in custody at Oregon prisons after a federal judge on Tuesday, Feb. 2, ordered the state to immediately begin offering them the vaccine. The order came during a larger case from a group of inmates who criticized state officials and Brown for their response COVID-19 outbreaks in Oregon prisons, saying that the state has violated the U.S. Constitution.
Brown announced in the Feb. 5 press conference that vaccine eligibility will also immediately expand to the thousands of Oregonians in jails and youth correctional facilities.
Case counts in Oregon prisons increased dramatically in the past two months, with more than 1,900 new cases reported among adults in custody through December 2020 and January.
In the first eight months of the pandemic, 1,400 cases were reported in Oregon prisons.
Twenty inmates with COVID-19 died in January alone, with 15 of those reported at Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla.
Since the pandemic began, 3,413 adults in custody in Oregon have tested positive for COVID-19 and 42 have died.
The health department administered about 540 doses on Thursday, Feb. 4, at the Pendleton Convention Center through its drive-thru clinic.
The department planned to administer 340 more on Feb. 5, which would most likely exhaust the county’s current supply, Fiumara said prior to that event.
About 600 doses administered last week were second doses, Fiumara said, adding the department is slated to receive about 1,000 doses each week to vaccinate people a second time, making them immunized against the virus.
Since county vaccination efforts began in late December 2020, 5,556 county residents have been vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Feb. 8, with 1,949 of those having received a second dose, according to data from the Oregon Health Authority.