MEDFORD, Ore. — Asante is one of the first healthcare providers in the state of Oregon to received a shipment of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine, but doses will be extremely limited for the near future.
Several administrators from Asante held a briefing with members of the press on Thursday, as Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center prepares to begin its first vaccinations for healthcare workers on Friday.
Oregon received its first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday, amounting to 35,100 doses, which are now being distributed to healthcare providers throughout the state. According to Asante, they are one of the first five health systems in Oregon to receive the vaccine.
The very first healthcare workers in Oregon received their vaccinations Wednesday, and the event was streamed live by Governor Kate Brown's office and hospital administrators.
At Asante's facilities, this first shipment will only cover doses for less than 15 percent of the staff. Medical staff who work in the highest-risk areas — where patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 are being cared for — will be prioritized.
The Pfizer vaccine is particularly high-maintenance, requiring that it be kept in "ultra-cold storage" to maintain a temperature of -70 degrees Celcius prior to deployment. The Moderna vaccine, which has yet to receive emergency use authorization from the FDA, does not require the same meticulous storage method.
Asante said that it will not be receiving the Moderna vaccine, which will largely be prioritized for healthcare facilities that do not have the capacity for ultra-cold storage, particularly in more rural areas. Another shipment of the Pfizer vaccine is tentatively scheduled for arrival in Oregon on December 22, along with the first wave of Moderna doses.
It may be mid-to-late February before Asante says it will be able to vaccinate 100 percent of its staff, as shipments of the vaccine continue to trickle in.
Surveys have suggested that nearly half of Oregonians are unsure if they want to get the COVID-19 vaccine. According to Holly Nickerson, Asante's Director of Quality, distrust is not so high among healthcare workers — but it does exist to some extent. In a survey of Asante staff, 60 percent said that they absolutely wanted to receive the vaccine as soon as possible, while the remainder at least wanted more information.
"Oregon and Vermont are actually the only two states that don't require — it's not a mandatory thing to vaccinate people within our state," Nickerson said. "And so, while we cannot mandate the vaccine, and will not mandate this vaccine, it's important that we just continue to reinforce education."
Nickerson cited Oregon law, which stipulates that "a worker shall not be required as a condition of work to be immunized" under a section regarding immunization for healthcare workers and first responders. Employers in those fields must provide vaccines for infectious diseases "at no cost" to the worker, but cannot require them unless otherwise mandated by federal or state law.
Meanwhile, Providence says that it has received a total of 2,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in this first wave. Those doses were distributed between the medical provider's two Portland hospitals and Providence Medford Medical Center.
Doses of the vaccine arrived in Medford on Thursday, and Providence plans to begin vaccinating front-line caregivers on Friday afternoon.
EDIT: This story has been corrected with further context from Asante to reflect that Oregon law does indeed prohibit mandated vaccinations for healthcare workers and first responders. The earlier verson cited other reporting that indicated vaccines could be required by employers at large, but was not specific to the healthcare field.