Dec. 16, 2020 — 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 at around 7 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 14.
Additional doses were expected at three other locations in Oregon on Tuesday, including Oregon Health & Science University Pharmacy, Kaiser Permanente’s Airport Way Center in Portland, and St. Alphonsus Medical Center in Ontario, with each receiving 975-dose packages of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The remaining 30,225 Pfizer vaccine doses from this week’s allocation of 35,100 doses 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.
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. This will include PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend, with follow-up shipments anticipated for Dec. 22 and Dec. 29.
In addition, a vaccine manufactured by Moderna Inc., which is expected to receive FDA emergency use authorization, is also scheduled for delivery in Oregon on Dec. 22 and Dec. 29.
According to Dr. Jim McGovern, vice president for medical affairs for the PeaceHealth Oregon network, the RiverBend center has the super freezers needed to hold the vaccine at minus-80 degrees.
“So, we’ll be receiving the Pfizer vaccine for shipments coming in later this week, then followed a few days later by a second shipment,” McGovern said Monday.
According to PeaceHealth spokesperson Sherri Bur McDonald, they are expecting fewer than 1,000 doses of the vaccine in its initial delivery, with healthcare workers in areas such as COVID-19 wings and emergency rooms receiving the first round of doses. This may also include those working face-to-face with patients in emergency departments at PeaceHealth Cottage Grove Community Medical Center and PeaceHealth Peace Harbor in Florence.
PeaceHealth’s Oregon network has about 5,500 caregivers and 500 providers who will be offered the vaccine in the coming weeks.
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.
The shipments follow a U.S. Food and Drug Administration decision on Dec. 11 to issue an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which was found in Phase 3 clinical trials to be 95 percent 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,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Monday. “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 ten months.”
Oregon Health Authority (OHA) 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 warned. “We need to keep doing what we’ve been doing to help our friends, neighbors and ourselves stay safe.”
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,” Hultberg 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 next Monday (Dec. 21), will see 22,425 vaccine doses going to skilled nursing facilities and 80,000 doses headed to assisted living facilities.