State kicks off massive immunization campaign as health facilities begin receiving new Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine
The first COVID-19 vaccine doses have arrived in Oregon. Legacy Health is the first registered COVID-19 vaccine provider in the state to receive the vaccine, made by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE. The health system’s Holladay Park site in Portland and Meridian Park site in Tualatin each took delivery of one package of 975 doses today at around 7 a.m.
Additional doses are expected at three other locations in Oregon this week: Oregon Health & Science University Pharmacy, Kaiser Permanente’s Airport Way Center in Portland, and St. Alphonsus Medical Center in Ontario also are each expected to receive 975-dose packages of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The remaining 30,225 Pfizer vaccine doses from this week’s allocation of 35,100 dose for Oregon will arrive at hospitals throughout the rest of the week, with 10,725 doses going to skilled nursing facilities for vaccinations that start next week.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked Oregon to choose the initial sites as a way to test the system that providers around the state are using to order the vaccine.
The shipments follow a U.S. Food and Drug Administration decision on Friday to issue an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which was found in Phase 3 clinical trials to be 95% effective and, in most people, cause only mild to moderate, short-lived side effects.
“In recent weeks, as COVID-19 vaccines reached the final stages of approval, I have said time and again that hope is on the way. Today, I can tell you that help is here,” said Governor Kate Brown. “The first shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine have arrived in Oregon, the first of many that will be distributed across the state. Starting with the frontline health care workers who have been our first line of defense against COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, and the long-term care facility residents who are among the most vulnerable, each day, more and more Oregonians will be vaccinated against this disease.
“Throughout the process, we will work to ensure that the Oregonians that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, including those from Black, Indigenous, Latino/Latina/Latinx, Pacific Islander, and Tribal communities, have equitable access to vaccination. We are in the middle of some of the hardest days of this pandemic. Our hospitals are stretched to capacity, and too many families are losing loved ones just as we enter the holiday season. So many Oregonians have suffered and sacrificed in the last 10 months.
“But starting this week, and each week following — as vaccines become more widely available — we will begin gaining ground again in our fight against this disease.”
Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen emphasized that vaccinations against COVID-19 are still months away for most Oregonians, so vigilance in practicing basic prevention measures — wearing masks, physical distancing, avoiding gatherings, staying home if sick — must continue.
“The vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel, but we will be in this tunnel for several months,” he said. “We need to keep doing what we’ve been doing to help our friends, neighbors and ourselves stay safe.”
Kathryn Correia, chief executive officer of Legacy Health, said, “The safe and equitable distribution and administration of vaccines will take all of us in the health care community working together with public health officials to accomplish the task before us. On behalf of our entire Legacy Health team, we pledge our continued partnership and commitment to this effort.”
Most Oregon hospitals and health systems that registered as vaccine provider sites are expected to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine over the next two weeks. Follow-up shipments are anticipated on Dec. 22 and Dec. 29. In addition, a vaccine manufactured by Moderna Inc., which has not yet received FDA emergency use authorization, also are scheduled for delivery in Oregon on Dec. 22 and Dec. 29.
In all, public health officials anticipate there will be enough of the two vaccines to provide first doses to about 100,000 people, with second doses following in January.
Becky Hultberg, president and chief executive officer of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems (OAHHS), called the arrival of the first doses “fantastic news.”
“As for who receives these first doses,” she said, “we strongly support putting our frontline health care workers at the top of the list. We need to take care of them, so they can take care of us. It’s what they always do, putting the patient first.”
Health officials say that outlook will be borne out in the first phase of the statewide vaccination effort, with health care workers, particularly those at highest risk of direct exposure to COVID-19 in their work — hospital employees, emergency medical services personnel, as well as long-term care facility employees and residents — getting the first doses. Essential workers, followed by people with underlying health conditions and those older than 65 are next in line as they are identified by OHA’s equity-focused Vaccine Advisory Committee.
Priority groups in Phase 2 will be determined at a later time. The general population isn’t expected to be eligible for vaccination until sometime in spring 2021.
The state vaccination distribution plan rollout is happening in tandem with a federal effort that is partnering with pharmacy companies CVS, Walgreens and Consonus Healthcare to offer on-site, no-cost COVID-19 vaccines to more than 680 long-term care facilities in Oregon. The first three weeks of the operation, which starts Dec. 21, will see 22,425 vaccine doses going to skilled nursing facilities and 80,000 doses headed to assisted living facilities.
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