(The Center Square) — Gov. Kate Brown said Tuesday night that senior Oregonians and teachers can expect to receive COVID-19 vaccines following an unannounced change to the federal supply chain.
Following Tuesday's updated guidance from the CDC, Brown announced Oregon will be expanding COVID-19 vaccination to include all individuals age 65 and older.
This news follows the federal government announcement that it plans to release its entire reserve of vaccines available to states. Brown said on Tuesday the state received no advance notice of the decision.
Brown asked the public to refrain from calling their local doctor's office or health providers in the meantime as the state finalizes its updated rollout.
Oregon is still in the middle of Phase 1a, which prioritizes vaccines for health care workers, long-term care staff and residents, tribal health programs, and public employees including correctional staff and medically vulnerable inmates.
Phase 1a is estimated by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to include as many as 400,000 of Oregon's 4.2 million people.
Brown has promised Oregon's teachers will be next in line to receive the vaccine as part of the state's Phase 1b.
Vaccination of Oregon seniors, child care providers, early learning, and K-12 educators and staff is set to begin January 23, Brown declared Tuesday.
January 23 is also when more vaccine shipments are expected to arrive from the federal government.
That timeline comes close to Brown's prior estimation that Oregon classrooms could begin reopening by February 15.
The two COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are estimated to be 95% effective against the virus with two doses administered three and four weeks apart, respectively. Protection is hoped to last as long as a year.
As of Tuesday, the OHA reported that 100,783 people have been vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna or Pfizer. At least 7,029 of them received their second and final dose, the agency reports.
The state has received 252,350 vaccine doses to date, according to the OHA.
“While this is an unexpected change in course from the federal government, receiving more vaccines is welcome news for states — and Oregon is ready to devote all resources necessary to ramp up distribution with our health care partners,” Brown said. “Oregon health care providers are working as fast as humanly possible to shift their vaccine distribution plans to meet this sudden change in national guidance."
According to a letter obtained by The Center Square, Uber Technologies CEO Dara Khosrowshahi wrote to Brown as recently as December 10 urging her to consider the state's Uber drivers for priority vaccination under Phase 1b.
Oregon boasts at least 16,449 Uber drivers, according to the letter, who could help transport many vaccine recipients to and from clinics, according to the CEO.
"As CEO of Uber, I also want to take this opportunity to underscore the importance of protecting the health and safety of the millions of people who have kept our communities running during the pandemic," Khosrowshahi wrote. "We also believe that we can use our technology to remove transportation barriers faced by individuals who will need to travel to their vaccination appointments, especially those in higher-risk groups and in communities of color, which have borne the disproportionate brunt of this pandemic."
The vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are not known to stop transmission of the virus, only symptoms.
Oregon teachers made it clear last week they do not support reopening classrooms until more vaccinations, testing, and safety precautions are a go.
The exact threshold for achieving what scientists refer to as herd immunity to COVID-19 is unknown. White House Health Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci has suggested the magic number could be between 75% and 85%.
Speaking to Willamette Week, Dr. Paul Cieslak, OHA's medical director for Communicable Diseases and Immunizations, about 90% of Oregonians may have to get vaccinated to reach 70% immunity.
For measles it is 95% of the population and 80% for polio, according to the World Health Organization.
On Tuesday, the OHA reported 1,203 new cases of COVID-19 and 54 new deaths from the virus, bringing the state case total to 127,780 and the state death toll to 1,667.
OHA data from Tuesday showed that 562 out of 689 ICU beds in Oregon were occupied or about 81% of ICU capacity.
Brown said Oregonians can expect more details on the phased vaccination rollout on Friday.