County health officials react to proposed next vaccine groups

JACKSON CO.- Yesterday the state’s COVID-19 Vaccination Advisory Committee met to suggest new groups to prioritize in the vaccine rollout.

The Vaccine Advisory Committee was organized to tackle the difficult decision of who should come next for the COVID-19 vaccine. The 27-person committee voted to recommend that a group of around 1.2 million Oregonians be next in line.

“This disease has had a very unequal impact. So I think when we look to vaccinate, even though all of us are eager for it, we have to take equity into consideration,” said Dr. Jim Shames with Jackson County Public Health says using equity as a lens to guide the rollout is a smart decision.

But he says its difficult to imagine vaccinating that many people with the uncertain stream of vaccines they are getting.

With many areas struggling to complete even Phase 1-B, some counties are less concerned with the “who” of the rollout and more with the “how.”

“Are they moving slowly, are they moving quickly, its hard for us to make large scale plans when we just aren’t sure how much vaccine, which vaccine, when its going to come, and who’s going to get it,” he explained.

In Josephine County, Dr. David Candelaria says they are more worried about the upcoming vaccinations of senior groups.

“Not only because those are much larger populations than this pretty closely defined Phase 1-A. But we still don’t have a good sense that vaccine supply is going to arrive to help us meeting those populations in a timely fashion,” Dr. Candelaria said. He says he feels the state’s quick announcements of who is next is even complicating the existing vaccination process.

“But because the vaccine is in short supply, other ideas come up like maybe delaying the second vaccine and just give people the primary vaccine. Or should we prioritize the second vaccine and not give the primary vaccine who are otherwise eligible,” he said.

The Advisory Committee’s next group suggestions includes people ages 16 to 64 with pre-existing conditions, frontline essential workers, people in custody, and people living in low-income housing.

“We’ve talked about that since the beginning, that the vulnerable people who might really have the most difficulty coming through COVID in a positive way, that they need to be prioritized,” said Klamath County Public Health’s Valeree Lane agrees vulnerable populations should be prioritized, but has the same concerns about vaccine supply.

She says they have about 5,000 eligible seniors to vaccinate next month. But the vaccines just aren’t there.

“We haven’t had 5000 doses of the vaccine in the community all at once.”

All three county health officials are asking for people’s patience and understanding.

“Feels like the state is saying ‘you’re eligible to get a vaccine, call public health’ and public health is stuck saying ‘no we don’t have any vaccine,” said Dr. Candelaria.

“The hope is that people can be patient with us and understand that we are trying to serve them in a prioritized way,” Lane said.

“This whole COVID outbreak has really pointed out inequities in our health care system and in our country,” Dr. Shames explained.

Valeree Lane says with the vaccine supply flow they have and the current rate of vaccination, the state will be less than 80 percent through our over 65 population and our educators by the week of May 2nd.

The Oregon Health Authority says it will review the suggestions from the vaccination advisory board before presenting them to the governor’s office.

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