Top Malheur County health official says more vaccine needed to stymie Covid

Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director explains the vaccine roll out during a Covid testing event at Vale High School last week. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

ONTARIO – When the coronavirus hit the county last spring, Sarah Poe had hope in the technological wizardry of modern science and the ability of her community to rally against the virus.

A year later and Poe is still hopeful – though her faith is tempered by experience – and believes the key weapon to defeat Covid is vaccine.

The first shipment of vaccine arrived in the county in December and triggered optimism among local health officials.

Since then, though, the county was compelled to rely on an often-haphazard state distribution system that leaves officials unsure when, or if, they will receive the serum.

“We find out week to week. This week we got 400 doses. Last week we got none,” Poe said in an interview last week.

Poe said health officials are not wasting vaccine.

“We are doing a great job with the vaccine we have. We use every dose in a timely way. We just wish we had a lot more,” said Poe.

Poe said the state is “hoping to give us a three-week picture (on vaccine distribution) soon but hasn’t yet.”

As of last week, the county had received about 4,000 doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna Covid vaccines and had administered more than 1,800 shots to county residents.

Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario so far received a 2,000-dose allotment and shared about 700 doses with the county, said Erika Harmon, public information officer for the health department.

 “They received the Pfizer vaccine which requires super-cold storage which they alone have,” said Harmon.

Saint Alphonsus receives its vaccine “directly from the manufacturer,” said Claudia Weathermon, hospital spokesperson.

“Public health gets its own allocation separate from the hospital,” said Weathermon.

Weathermon said she didn’t have details on how many of the hospital staff received the vaccine.

“We do not track and here is why. Receiving the vaccine is completely optional. So, when a colleague decides to get the shot, they are treated as a ‘patient’ and HIPAA prevents us from tracking,” said Weathermon, referring to the federal privacy law.

Harmon said Valley Family Heath Care in Malheur County received 1,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine. Valley Family administered the first 500 doses it received and is now working through the second allotment of 500 vaccines, said Harmon.

The Malheur County Health Department, said Harmon, has received 1,100 Moderna doses and administered 700. About 400 more doses were slated to be administered last weekend.

News tip: contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

Previous coverage:

Pioneer Place kicks off Covid inoculations for residents

Contact tracer hopes to help Malheur County residents cope with Covid and limit its spread

Malheur County urges those attending funeral youth activities to get Covid test


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