Ontario hospital among first in Oregon to get Covid vaccine, state says

Ontario’s hospital is expected to receive 975 doses of the Covid vaccine Tuesday. (The Enterprise/File).

This article has been updated with new information from Saint Alphonsus Health System.

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ONTARIO – The Covid vaccine is coming to Ontario.

The Oregon Health Authority announced Monday that Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario will be one of the first five medical centers in Oregon to receive the vaccine.

The state said Monday that 975 doses of the Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE vaccine arrived in Oregon and are earmarked for facilities in Portland and Tualatin.

Three other locations – Oregon Health & Science University pharmacy and Kaiser Permanente’s Airport Center, both in Portland, and the Ontario hospital will receive 975 doses of the vaccine Tuesday, part of a 35,100-dose distribution set for Oregon this week.

The remaining vaccine from the week’s distribution round will arrive at hospitals throughout the week, with 10,725 doses scheduled for skilled nursing facilities.

The vaccine shipments are in the wake of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration decision Dec. 11 to issue an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine.

“In recent weeks, as Covid-19 vaccines reached the final stage of approval, I have said time and again that hope is one the way. Today I can tell you that help is here,” said Gov. Kate Brown.

Brown said vaccines will first be distributed to health care workers and long-term health care facilities. The priority will be for medical workers caring for Covid patients.

Broader distribution to the public is expected to be months away.

“Throughout the process, we will work to ensure that the Oregonians that have been disproportionately impacted by Covid, including those from Black, indigenous, Latino/Latina/Latinx, Pacific Islander, and tribal communities, have equitable access to vaccination,” said Brown.

The Covid epidemic is raging across Malheur County and Payette County in Idaho.

As of Sunday, Dec. 13, the Malheur County Health Department reported 2,627 active local Covid cases and 45 deaths since the pandemic began locally in March.

“The vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel, but we will be in this tunnel for several months. We need to keep doing what we’ve been doing to help our friends, neighbors and ourselves stay safe,” said Patrick Allen, Oregon Health Authority director.

Dr. Steven Nemerson, chief clinical officer for Saint Alphonsus Health System, said Monday that states are scheduled to receive new batches of the vaccine every week.

“That’s what we’ve been told but obviously it remains to be seen,” he said.

Nemerson said a specific delivery schedule has not been released. The number of doses has also not been specified, he said, but typically the vaccine arrives in a “single tray and each one contains 975 doses.”

Nemerson said Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario, also will distribute vaccine to Saint Alphonsus Medical Center – Baker City.

“Baker will receive part of the Ontario allotment,” he said.

He said there’s a schedule for dispensing it there, but for security reasons, he did not release the details.

Nemerson said there are several reasons for heightened security regarding the vaccine.

“There is a protocol mandated by the FDA where we have to follow a process to make sure the chain of command of this is clear and we are not just handling it casually,” said Nemerson.

Nemerson said Saint Alphonsus is “policing” the vaccine.

“To make sure someone does not come in from the outside because they have some kind of malintent to get access to the vaccine,” said Nemerson.

Nemerson said he is not aware of any specific threats regarding gaining access to the vaccine but “there are a lot of people who have different opinions about this.”

“So, we have very tight security. We are not disclosing where we are sorting them within our facilities and we similarly will not disclose when we dispatch vaccine from one area to another,” said Nemerson.

He said the vaccine is safe.

“Both Pfizer and the other one (created by Moderna) have gone through extensive research trials. Both trials had administration to more than 30,000 people. That is, in fact, a larger group than more vaccine trials, so the research and the data that has been collected is reliable,” said Nemerson.

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

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