With vaccine distribution imminent, public health officials said Friday they can’t make any predictions about when the first wave of Oregonians — roughly 360,000 healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities — will all be immunized for COVID-19.
But could it be as far off as next autumn? Maybe.
“The challenge is,” said Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen, “…we’ve been given no kind of distribution schedule or any idea of how many doses to expect on any kind of regular basis.”
Allen added: “So until we actually see vaccine show up on the loading dock, I would not want to try to make a prediction of how long it’s going to take.”
According to the governor’s office, so far the federal government has committed only to shipping Oregon 197,500 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in December, starting as early as next week, if emergency use authorization is granted as expected.
That’s enough to immunize nearly 100,000 Oregonians, because each person needs two doses a few weeks apart.
Allen noted that federal officials have said it might be June before everyone who wants to be vaccinated is. Federal officials also have said because the vaccines have yet to be studied in children, it likely will be summer before children are cleared to start receiving immunizations.
During the same live-streamed news conference, Gov. Kate Brown told reporters the state is working toward vaccinating 10,000 residents per a day and “it will take us most of the year to do that.”
With more than 4.2 million residents, one reporter noted that at a rate of 10,000 residents per day, it’d take into October before enough had been inoculated to reach herd immunity.
State and federal officials have said they expect herd immunity — the point where so many people are inoculated that the virus essentially dies off — to be reached when 70%, or about three million Oregonians, have received their doses.
Thanksgiving surge smaller than expected
More than two weeks after Thanksgiving, state epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said Oregon has mostly avoided the feared and anticipated surge in COVID-19 cases that was expected if residents traveled and gathered with extended family in large numbers as they celebrated the holiday.
“I’d like to thank you, Oregonians, for the changes and the sacrifices that you have all made,” Sidelinger said during the news conference. “ … These decisions, as hard as they were, likely slowed the increase in cases. We’re not yet seeing the rapidly rising cases feared.”
Two weeks ago, Oregon’s rolling seven-day average was 1,236 cases per day. Friday, it was 1,426. That’s a 15% increase since Thanksgiving.
But in the past week, the seven-day average actually has dropped by 7% — from 1,533 cases a week ago to 1,426 on Friday.
Meanwhile, nationally cases are up 28% in the past two weeks and 15% in the past week.
Sidelinger said many Oregonians heeded a series of public-safety measures mandated by the governor, including avoiding social gatherings of more than six people and closing restaurants and bars to all but takeout in November. The governor has since loosened some of those restrictions to allow outdoor dining and adopted a generally lighter, tiered-approach statewide.
Oregon ranks fourth lowest in case rates and fifth lowest in deaths among states since the start of the pandemic, according to The New York Times tracker. But the number of deaths have been rapidly increasing in recent weeks, as more than 300 Oregonians with COVID-19 died in November alone.
The state’s death tally grew by 16 Friday to 1,138, with December on pace to exceed last month’s fatality record.
Even so, Allen, the Oregon Health Authority’s director, said if Oregonians had died of the coronavirus at the same rate Americans have died nationally, “we would have had 2,000 more people die.” Data from The New York Times tracker indicates deaths would have been even worse than Allen said, at about 2,600 more.
Lack of support
Brown noted several times during the news conference that Oregon hasn’t received enough cash support from Washington, D.C. and “there’s absolutely no question … the federal government needs to step up.”
She said aid has been lacking to bolster struggling businesses, including restaurants in higher risk areas of the state that have have been forced to shutdown for all but takeout. Brown said money is also needed for people who can’t make their rent and landlords whose tenants aren’t able to pay.
Similarly, the federal government has committed little cash to the vaccine rollout effort in Oregon, she said.
“Just to give you a perspective, we’ve received $5 million to help with our vaccine efforts from the federal government,” Brown said. “I’m expecting a little more but if you do the math that’s a little more than a dollar per Oregonian.”
State officials also took time Friday to underscore the importance of trying to prevent coronavirus infections among all Oregonians, even those who statistically are unlikely to die.
Southeast Portland resident Darrah Isaacson spoke at the news conference to warn the public that COVID-19 isn’t just a case of the flu. She was a healthy, active person with no underlying conditions when she was stricken with the virus in early March. She had a fever, cough, body aches, extreme fatigue and an unrelenting headache.
“I actually don’t remember many of the days I was initially sick,” said Isaacson, 40.
More than nine months later, she is still debilitatingly ill.
“My family loves to hike and bike and camp and canoe, but we didn’t do any of that this summer because I can barely walk around the block now,” Isaacson said.
At times, she hasn’t been able to stand long enough to take a shower. She has woken up in the middle of the night gasping for air, then rushed to the emergency room. On the worst days, she’s bedridden.
The most difficult part, she said, is not being able to play with her 5-year-old daughter.
“A few months ago she told me, ‘I wish you were like a real mommy,’” Isaacson recounted. “And that was truly heartbreaking. It still brings me to tears every time I think about it.”
Isaacson urged the public to continue physically distancing, wearing a mask and washing their hands. She said she knows it’s tough to refrain from meeting up with relatives or friends.
“But I can tell you the alternative,” she said, “is way more exhausting.”
Click on the video below to hear Isaacson in her own words.
— Aimee Green; firstname.lastname@example.org; @o_aimee