Oregon hopes to vaccinate 30,000 health care workers against Covid by end of 2020

Pat Allen, Oregon Health Authority director, participates in a daily briefing for congressional staff via phone on Monday, April 20. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

An estimated 30,000 frontline health care workers will be vaccinated against Covid by the end of the year, Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen announced Wednesday.

That assumes vaccines in development now earn federal regulatory approval in the coming weeks.

The announcement was a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy news conference where Gov. Kate Brown announced most of the state would remain under a “freeze” order limiting capacity in retail businesses and banning indoor dining, though restaurants can resume outdoor service next week.

Allen said the prospect of a vaccine underscores the need for Oregonians to work together to stop the spread of Covid now.

“While the arrival of vaccines puts the end of Covid-19 in sight, it also reminds us that the decisions we make today are urgent and unavoidable,” he said. “Every Covid-19 death is preventable. Let’s not lose any more lives, especially now as vaccines become a reality, not a hope.”

No Covid vaccine has yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but Pfizer submitted an application Nov. 20 seeking an emergency use authorization, which would allow some Americans to get the vaccine while a longer review process unfolds, the New York Times reported.

Another pharmaceutical company, Moderna, has said it intends to apply soon for the same FDA authorization. About a dozen other Covid vaccines are in late-stage human trials, the final step before seeking regulatory approval.

Allen said the FDA has committed to making its review process open by posting the data it’s reviewing online so states can begin their own regulatory review.

He said state regulators in Oregon, Washington, California and Nevada will work together on that review.

“We can all provide a measure of assurance to the public about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine,” he said.

Allen said vaccine doses would be available first to health care workers in contact with Covid patients.

Oregon has developed a draft vaccine distribution plan explaining how the state will work with hospitals, long-term care facilities, county health departments, tribes, health centers and other groups to distribute a vaccine more widely and determine who can get it when quantities are limited.

The plan calls for a vaccine advisory committee to help guide state policy.

While vaccine doses are limited, early efforts will focus on clinics where health care workers can get the vaccine. 

Once a vaccine is approved for use in long-term care facilities, the plan calls for holding vaccination events at those facilities for residents..

Some parts of the plan will depend on the storage requirements for the vaccine. Pfizer’s vaccine needs to be stored at -70 degrees Celsius, far colder than most vaccines, so the state will have to determine locations where doses can be safely stored.

Moderna’s vaccine, in contrast, requires storage at only -20 degrees Celsius, a requirement a wider range of clinics and facilities can meet.

Allen said he expected limited shipments of vaccines would continue into early 2021, allowing Oregon to continue vaccinating health care workers and people most vulnerable to Covid.

The exact quantity would depend on the number of vaccines that can clear federal regulatory approval in the coming months, Allen said.

Vaccines are expected to be more widely available to the public later in 2021.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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