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Despite vaccine delay, officials say Oregon remains on track

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Despite historic winter weather across the country that is causing shipment delays and forcing mass vaccination sites to reschedule appointments, Oregon health officials said Friday that the state's vaccination timeline remains on schedule.

While more than 10,000 vaccine appointments were canceled last week, beginning Monday people 70 and older will be eligible to receive doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and people 65 and older will be eligible March 1.

“I want to reassure every Oregon senior – nothing that’s happened in the past week will slow down our schedule," Pat Allen, the director of the Oregon Health Authority, said during a news conference Friday.

Last week a massive snow and ice storm swept into the Pacific Northwest and brought the “most dangerous conditions” seen by utility workers — leaving hundreds of thousands without power, including vaccination sites, and delaying a shipment of 67,000 Moderna doses to the state.

“It seems like every season brings a new test on top of the pandemic. Oregon’s vaccination clinics were no exception," Allen said. "Over the past week, weather forced clinics to cancel and reschedule appointments, or open late.”

However, health officials say that they do not expect "these problems will have a long-term impact on our vaccination schedule.”

During the past week, Oregon averaged more than 14,000 vaccinations per day. As of Thursday, 12% of the state's population has been vaccinated with first doses and 5% of residents have been fully vaccinated.

Health officials delivered more good news Friday. Oregon will be receiving an increased supply of vaccine from the federal government beginning next week — from 83,000 doses to about 107,000.

But the state is still not receiving enough doses to vaccinate everyone on demand.

“While it’s an encouraging sign to see that we’ve vaccinated one-third of all currently eligible seniors – even with weather – we know it will take some more time before we have enough doses to vaccinate a critical mass of everyone who’s currently eligible,” Allen said.

Health officials stressed that they are working to address the challenge of racial and ethnic inequity in the pandemic and in vaccination rates.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone in Oregon, but it hasn’t affected every community in the same way,” Allen said.

Based on data from the health authority, white people represent 75% of Oregonians. While they only comprise about 48% of coronavirus cases, they account for 74% of vaccinations.

People who are Latino or Hispanic represent 13% of Oregonians. However, they comprise 26% of COVID-19 cases and account for 5% of the vaccinations administered to date. Black people are 2% of the state's population and represent 2.4% of COVID-19 cases. They account for less than 2% of administered vaccine.

"At OHA, we’re working to build bridges with communities our health care system has failed to serve well, improve access to vaccines and other health care, eliminate health inequity and enable more people to live a healthier life.” Allen said.

Oregon's numbers of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are decreasing.

State epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said the state continues to see declining cases and hospitalizations, with a 66% drop in the seven-day rolling average since the beginning of the year.

In addition Gov. Kate Brown said based on recent data, Oregon has the third-lowest COVID-19 infection rate in the nation. Last week the percentage of positive tests was 3.4%

“Even in the midst of historic power outages, we have continued pushing forward on our efforts to fight COVID-19, vaccinate Oregonians and return more students to in-person learning,” Brown said.

Since the start of the year, more students have returned to in-person learning. Currently about 20% of Oregon's students have returned to the classroom, double the amount in December.

“Oregonians continue to make smart choices and the numbers speak for themselves,” Brown said.

The Oregon Health Authority reported 492 coronavirus cases on Friday, bringing that state's total to 152,190. The state's death toll is 2,149.

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Cline is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

FILE - In this Dec. 17, 2020 file photo, prepared COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine syringes are seen at Edward Hospital in Naperville, Ill. The U.S. government is negotiating with Pfizer to acquire tens millions of additional vaccine doses in exchange for helping the pharmaceutical giant gain better access to manufacturing supplies. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)