MEDFORD, Ore. — Monday marks the beginning of Oregon opening coronavirus vaccine eligibility to seniors age 80 and older, but vaccine providers on the local level say that they won't immediately be able to serve this new group.
Asante representative Lauren Van Sickle said on Monday that the healthcare provider — one of the largest recipients of vaccines in Jackson and Josephine counties — is not able to vaccinate people in the 65 or older group right now, as efforts to vaccinate Phase 1A, childcare workers and school staff remain underway.
Van Sickle also underlined that the upcoming vaccination events at the Expo and the Josephine County Fairgrounds are still limited to second doses for the same groups that received their shots in January.
"We know that Governor Brown opened it up to older ages, but we do not have the vaccine supply at this time," Van Sickle said. "Sadly, an 80 year old woman showed up at The Expo this morning for her shot because the governor said vaccinations are available."
In a press conference on Friday, Governor Kate Brown and Oregon Health Authority director Patrick Allen reiterated the schedule for expanded eligibility to seniors — also providing a new, optimistic prediction that 75 percent of all eligible groups, including seniors, would be able to receive their first doses by early April.
Brown and Allen attributed that outlook to an expected surge in vaccines provided by the Biden administration, but it was unclear when precisely those added doses would begin arriving in Oregon.
Allen admitted that there would be "some degree of chaos" beginning this week as seniors become eligible, acknowledging that availability of the vaccine will vary by county or provider, and presaging that many seniors and their families would be "frustrated" initially in trying to secure a vaccination appointment.
"Jackson County can vaccinate this age group, it is just that the vaccine supply is very limited," said Tanya Phillips with Jackson County Public Health. "Therefore not everyone will be able to get vaccinated when they would like to."
Availability of the vaccine to eligible groups has been markedly different by area, even in southern Oregon. Klamath County began offering vaccine appointments to some seniors 80 and older over the weekend, prior to official eligibility, though public health officials said that these events would not serve everyone. In Klamath County, as in Jackson and Josephine, supply of the vaccine remains an issue.
Some retail pharmacies in southern Oregon are also supposed to begin receiving doses of the vaccine this week, which will be available by appointment to groups eligible under Oregon's plan. As of Monday, Safeway and Albertsons did not have any appointments available.
"We understand people want to get vaccinated; that’s our goal, too!" Van Sickle said. "When supply is allocated, we’ll keep the shots coming."
The Oregon Health Authority on Monday launched several new tools intended to help the approximately 168,000 Oregonians 80 and older find information about vaccines. One tool helps people find out if they are eligible and then directs them to info about vaccines at the local level. Another helps people find a vaccination appointment, but only in Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Columbia or Marion counties.
Oregonians can aso call 211, text ORCOVID to 898211, or email ORCOVID@211info.org for more information about vaccine clinics.