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State makes essential workers its vaccine priority

State health officials could distribute the first doses of COVID-19 vaccinations as early as the end of this month if it’s approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

But those vaccines will most likely be reserved for health care and other essential workers, according to a plan submitted by the Oregon Health Authority to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nationwide, states were required to submit their vaccination plans by Friday, according to the CDC. States have about two weeks to establish distribution systems to meet CDC’s Nov. 1 deadline. It is unknown when the vaccines will be approved, said Jonathan Modie, Oregon Health Authority spokesman.

State health officials assume that vaccine supplies will be limited at first and “should be focused on individuals critical to the pandemic response, provide direct care and maintain societal function, as well as those at highest risk for developing severe illness,” Modie said in an email.

Topping the list of who will receive the vaccine are medical professionals, essential workers, longterm care facilities, people with underlying health conditions, people older than 65, ethnic and racial minorities, tribal communities, prisoners, homeless people, colleges and universities, people living in group settings, people with disabilities and people without insurance, according to the plan.

The Food and Drug Administration has authorized the use of two vaccines under an emergency use authorization, but it is unknown whether both drugs or just one will be approved.

In the 136-page Oregon plan, the state outlines its preparations for two main scenarios for vaccine release, one for if the state receives a minimal order of 1,000 doses, and one for a larger volume.

Until the vaccine is widely distributed, Oregon officials Monday expanded the state’s face-covering guidance to include private and public workplaces, classrooms, offices, meeting rooms and workspaces, unless someone is alone in an office or in a private workspace, according to health officials.

The revised guidance requires that people wear face coverings in outdoor and indoor markets, street fairs, private career schools and public and private colleges and universities. Wearing a face covering instead of a face shield is recommended with the exception of limited situations, such as communicating with someone who is deaf or hearing impaired and needs to read lips.

The best way to ward against the spread of COVID-19 is to wear a face covering, maintain a 6-foot physical distance from others, avoid large gatherings, frequent handwashing and limit social gatherings.

When the vaccine is available, much of the state’s plan will follow procedures put in place in 2009 during the H1N1 pandemic, according to the plan. That could include coordinating with partners such as pharmacies, clinics and school nurses.

Health officials are also focusing on getting more people to take a flu shot to prevent hospitals from overloading in case of a surge of COVID-19 cases.

This September 2020 photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine being developed by the company. Cheryl Gerber/Courtesy of Johnson & Johnson via AP