SALEM, Ore. — Under a revised timeline unveiled by Governor Kate Brown's office on Friday, all Oregonians 16 and older will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine on May 1, in addition to accelerated steps for several groups along the way.
The Governor and state health officials scheduled a press briefing for 11 a.m. on Friday morning to address the new timeline, which now embraces President Joe Biden's promise that all Americans 16 and older would be eligible by May 1.
Oregon Health Authority director Patrick Allen indicated earlier this week that Oregon would meet Biden's goal, but the Governor's office released a more measured statement at the time — acknowledging that the Biden administration had promised an increased supply of vaccine, but stopping short of saying that they would adopt the May 1 pledge.
"We will continue to center equity in all of our vaccine distribution efforts, whether that means ensuring that seniors, people with underlying conditions, frontline workers, and the Oregonians most vulnerable to COVID-19 have the opportunity for vaccinations prior to May 1 — or after May 1, working with local health partners to ensure these priority groups continue to have access to appointments," the Governor's office said on Wednesday.
The timeline released on Friday largely maintains Oregon's existing schedule, but with several additions — an opportunity for individual counties to expand eligibility early, on March 22, and the promise to make all Oregonians 16 and up eligible on May 1.
Group 7 of Phase 1b, which includes frontline workers and adults with underlying health conditions, has been moved up to April 19 from an original date of May 1.
"The Oregon Health Authority tells me that, provided supplies come in from the federal government as anticipated, we expect to have enough doses for every Oregonian who wants a vaccine to have the opportunity for at least a first dose by the end of May," Brown said on Friday. "That makes me smile. I hope it does for you too. The future's looking brighter every day."
- Counties that attest to largely completing the vaccination of residents 65 and older may begin vaccinating the next eligible groups.
- Vaccinations may also begin for migrant and seasonal farmworkers in counties where they are currently already working.
Phase 1B, Group 6
- All adults 45-64 with underlying health conditions
- Migrant and seasonal farm workers
- Seafood and agricultural workers
- Food processing workers
- People living in low-income senior housing, senior congregate and independent living
- Individuals experiencing homelessness
- People currently displaced by wildfires
- Wildland firefighters
- Pregnant people 16 and older.
Phase 1B, Group 7
- Frontline workers as defined by the CDC
- Multigenerational household members
- Adults 16-44 with underlying health conditions
- All Oregonians, 16 and older
News earlier this week that Oregon might align with Biden's May 1 promise did not sit well with United Food and Commerical Workers Union Local 555, which represents grocery store employees and other frontline workers. Already incensed that Oregon had placed frontline workers near the bottom of its timeline — with an original eligibility date of May 1 — the idea that those workers could be competing with the rest of Oregon's adult population for vaccine appointments on the same date of eligibility further fanned the flames.
The updated timeline now makes frontline workers eligible on April 19, providing a two-week period before all adult Oregonians become eligible.
“This is a huge step forward. Since the vaccine became available, it has been imperative that grocery store workers receive priority access per the recommendations of the CDC. Grocery workers have proven they are essential to their communities in a time of crisis. It’s only right that they receive vaccinations before those who can work from home,” said Dan Clay, President of UFCW 555.
OHA director Patrick Allen presaged continued "traffic jams" as more groups become eligible, reiterating the well-worn warning that many people will not be able to secure an appointment to be vaccinated when their group becomes eligible.
Friday also brought news that the CDC will update its guidance for schools, slashing the recommended spacing between students in classrooms from 6 feet in all directions to 3 feet. The change is one that increasingly more Oregon schools have been pushing for, as it would allow them to retire hybrid learning models in favor of full-time classroom learning.
Both the Klamath County and Grants Pass school boards resolved to lobby Governor Brown and state officials to adopt the spacing change, well before the CDC made its determination. But a change in Oregon's school guidelines was not expected on Friday, so soon after the sudden pivot from the CDC.
Governor Brown said that Oregon Department of Education officials are now reviewing the CDC guidance with the aim of implementing it for Oregon school districts, but did not give an estimate for when updated state guidance would be issued.
This is a developing story and will be updated with more details as they emerge.