Vaccine on the way but when it will arrive in Malheur County remains uncertain

Angelica Resendiz, a registered nurse with the Malheur County Health Department, shows one of the syringes used to deliver flu vaccine. The Covid vaccine, expected to arrive in Oregon later this month, will consist of two separate shots spread over a 21- or 28-day period. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

VALE – The first doses of a Covid vaccine will arrive in Oregon over the next few weeks with health care workers reserved to be first in line for inoculations, but when the serum will reach Malheur County is unknown.

“We are thinking we might get a few hundred by the end of December but that is just a guess,” said Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director.

Gov. Kate Brown announced last week that the state is slated to receive 147,000 doses of the two Covid vaccines – one created by Pfizer and the other by Moderna – designed to be administered to hospital workers treating Covid cases. Both vaccines, which are reported to be 95% effective, are awaiting final federal approval. The Pfizer vaccine could be authorized for emergency deployment by Friday.

The 147,000 doses will cover less than half of Oregon’s health care workforce, and each vaccine presents logistical challenges, said Poe.

“It will take an incredible amount of administrative work for the preparation,” said Poe.

The Pfizer vaccine, she said, will arrive in “cases that are huge, like 900 doses in one.”

The Pfizer vaccine, Poe said, also must be kept in “a deep freeze.”

“Every five days we must replenish the dry ice,” said Poe.

The Moderna vaccine, she said, doesn’t require such cold storage.

“It just has to be refrigerated, not frozen,” said Poe.

Poe said both vaccines will be administered in double doses, 21 to 28 days apart.

“Nobody is getting live Covid virus,” said Poe.

Poe said the health department was approved by the state last week to be an official Covid vaccine provider. That means the department has the necessary people and specific sites to give the vaccine once it arrives.

“We don’t know which one (of the vaccines) we will get or how much. We are very much in the planning stage,” said Poe.

Poe said some hospitals in the state, including Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario, were selected as vaccine storage hubs.

“We are holding a vaccine meeting with the hospital and other emergency managers Friday. We hope by then we will have more information,” said Poe.

State officials said it is likely that those who work for or live in nursing homes and similar facilities would be next in line for the vaccine. They said last week that it would be months before all Oregonians could access the vaccine.

News the vaccines are near comes as the pandemic continues its relentless spread.

St. Luke’s and Saint Alphonsus health systems are now preparing for a shift to crisis care as the new year dawns as patient loads climb. Oregon modeling released last week indicates the state could record up to 2,700 new Covid cases daily by Christmas.

Poe said her department and other local emergency management officials will need to be “nimble” because there are many unanswered questions regarding the vaccine.

Another key factor, said Poe, is so far there is no money from the state to pay for vaccine distribution.

“But we are committed to doing this even without funding,” said Poe.

 News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

HOLIDAY SPECIAL: Get a full year of access to the digital service of the Malheur Enterprise at a 25% savings. No news organization can match our quality and depth of coverage of Malheur County. This is a limited time offer you can get HERE.