Clackamas County adapts to shift in vaccination priorities

Sophia Wang, Editor-In-Chief

Gov. Kate Brown announced on Jan. 15 that teachers are eligible to be vaccinated starting Jan. 25. The first wave of seniors over 80 will have to wait until Feb. 8, a delay of over two weeks from the original plan.

The change in prioritizing teachers and seniors came after pressure from federal Health and Human Services officials to expand vaccination priority to more vulnerable groups alongside the federal government’s decision to no longer hold back second doses in reserve. However, a recent announcement revealed that no federal stockpile of vaccine doses actually exist to meet states’ increasing demands and expectations.

At the current pace of vaccinations, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) Director Patrick Allen predicted 56 percent of Oregonians in phase 1A would be vaccinated by Jan. 25.

Allen expressed confidence the 100,000 educators in the state could be vaccinated over a time frame of roughly two weeks, while Clackamas County Public Health Director Philip Mason-Joyner was less confident on giving a rigid timeline, instead highlighting the logistical challenges in managing growing levels of demand. “I think one of the biggest messages, and this is really hard to say, but patience, patience, patience […] we have this new web-based form in the metro region where folks that are eligible can go and fill it out on our county website. In the two days since we’ve launched it in the region, we’ve had over 13,000 individuals making requests, saying that they need the vaccine,” he said. 

Combined with the required monitoring period immediately following vaccination and fully scheduled clinics on top of social distancing protocols, the process isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. Daily vaccination data at county and state levels can be found through the OHA COVID-19 data dashboards, as well as additional metrics on cases, testing and hospital capacity. 

Larger community vaccination efforts have started popping up in stadiums and convention centers of other counties, but Clackamas County has yet to receive the necessary amount of supplies to sustain such a scaled-up effort. Mason-Joyner said, “There’s just such a limited supply right now that we’re really using the existing infrastructure of pharmacies and clinics that are in hospitals that are already in place.” 

As of Jan. 14, there were 28 clinics, hospitals and pharmacies enrolled to receive the vaccine in Clackamas County. When teachers become eligible for vaccination, school districts will be encouraged to reach out to insurance providers directly to get educators immunized.

A new, more contagious strain of COVID-19 that has sent major European cities back into lockdown is forecasted to become the dominant form of the virus by March in the U.S., according to the CDC. On a local level, Mason-Joyner said “scientists are saying that it’s looking like the vaccine will be effective against these strains. So that gives me confidence that we just need to continue to follow the cautions. We need to encourage folks to get vaccinated and continue to move forward on our past so I don’t think there’s a whole lot of things operationally that we need to do differently. We just need to continue to move along.”