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COVID-19 vaccines for local older adults in short supply

A shortage of COVID-19 vaccine shipments to Jackson County has jeopardized the ability of older people to start getting vaccinated Monday and could slow the pace of delivering second booster shots to those who’ve already received a first shot.

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines being used in the Rogue Valley require a first shot followed by a second injection several weeks later.

Under the state’s vaccination rollout plan, people 80 and older become eligible to be vaccinated Monday.

Health care and education workers, along with residents and staff of nursing homes, already have been eligible for COVID-19 shots.

The state has been redirecting shipments of vaccine it gets from the federal government to counties that are still trying to vaccinate health care workers.

Organizations in Jackson County that have been vaccinating people are not getting the shipments they need.

“The supply of vaccine that we thought we would have and needed and expected is not coming,” said Asante spokesperson Lauren Van Sickle.

In response to the shortage, Asante has paused scheduling appointments for first-dose vaccinations for everyone, regardless of eligibility. Asante will reopen its first-dose vaccination clinics for health care workers, teachers, eligible senior citizens and others when the state sends more vaccine, officials said.

Providence could not be reached by deadline about its vaccination plans.

Jackson County, Asante, Providence, the National Guard and other community partners staged a successful three-day vaccination event Jan. 21-23 at the Jackson County Expo that provided first shots for more than 7,200 people in health care and education.

A January vaccination event at the Josephine County Fairgrounds reached 3,000 people in health care and education.

Asante and its partners are moving forward with plans for a second-dose vaccination event Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 11-13, at The Expo and one at the Josephine County Fairgrounds Feb. 14-15. Those events are only for people who received their first shots at the January vaccination events.

Registration for the second-dose events this month has now closed due to the vaccine shortage.

About 8,500 to 9,000 people had already registered, and those people should still attend, Van Sickle said.

People who need a second dose and hadn’t yet registered for the vaccination events should call 541-789-2813 to schedule an appointment for a second shot by Feb. 28, Asante said.

“We are really appreciative of the community’s patience. It’s not easy for anyone,” Van Sickle said. “There is such a high demand, but we only get so much. Our hands are tied.”

She said Asante will do everything it can to get vaccinations for older adults and other eligible people.

Jackson County Public Health said it expects to receive 2,100 doses of the Moderna vaccine next week, with only 1,300 of those shots allocated from the state for people 80 and older. The allotment will be pushed out to other vaccination providers that will be vaccinating that age group.

Jackson County has more than 50,000 residents 65 or older, and the state has 750,000.

Oregon has already vaccinated more than 100,000 people 60 and older through other means, such as vaccinations for nursing home residents. But state officials estimate it will take until mid-April to vaccinate more than seven in 10 older Oregonians, Jackson County Public Health officials said.

Not everyone will choose to get vaccinated, so no demographic group will hit 100% vaccination. But getting a high percentage of people vaccinated boosts herd immunity against the virus.

Jackson County Public Health will have shots available for people 80 and older, but appointments will be limited. It recommends visiting jacksoncountyor.org/hhs/General/News-Information/covid-19-vaccine-1 and scrolling to “Where to Get Vaccinated in Jackson County.” There is an online form to request an appointment. Some providers will be reaching out directly to patients to schedule vaccine appointments.

“We really are putting a lot of effort into this,” said Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County medical director. “We are trying to create as much access as possible. I know it’s frustrating. Mostly we just don’t have enough supply. It’s hard to make plans and promises.”

Asante and Jackson County officials said they are encouraged by the strong demand for the vaccine locally.

Talent resident Don Borns, who is in his 80s, and his wife, Mary Clark, who is in her 90s, were notified by Asante this week that their Monday appointments to get the COVID-19 vaccine were canceled due to a lack of shots.

“It’s a blow to the senior citizens that the shots have been diverted,” Borns said.

He is critical of Gov. Kate Brown’s decision to prioritize teachers before older people. She did so in an effort to get students back in school more quickly.

Borns is still recovering from a bout with pneumonia, and his wife was also recently ill. Although they are both afraid to leave the house, he has to venture out because he is her caregiver.

“In my situation, it’s desperate,” he said.

Borns said he doesn’t fault Asante for the shortage of vaccines, but he said that state officials have betrayed older residents.

In a press conference Friday, Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen said the state had to redirect shots to counties that didn’t have enough to vaccinate their health care providers and start on educators.

Counties that had their shipments cut told the state they were done vaccinating health care workers, he said.

“It’s not a matter of penalizing those who are doing well. It’s a matter of taking these scarce doses and getting them to places where not enough doses have been received yet to vaccinate,” Allen said.

Van Sickle said Jackson County is not done vaccinating health care workers.

The county did get permission from the state to include educators a few days before they were eligible for the January vaccination event at The Expo that also reached health care workers.

Starting Monday, state officials said, they will launch a new tool called Get Vaccinated Oregon at covidvaccine.oregon.gov to help people determine their eligibility and sign up for email and text alerts when they become eligible.

Seniors can also call 2-1-1 for information. Brown has deployed 30 additional National Guard members to help field calls.

Allen recommended that older people who need information about vaccinations access only those systems regarding people 80 and older for now.

Under Oregon’s rollout plan, people 75 and older become eligible Feb. 15, those 70 and older become eligible Feb. 21, and people 65 and older become eligible March 1.

“I want to thank our seniors for your patience thus far, and for your continued patience in the coming days and weeks,” Brown said at the Friday press conference. “We are still managing a scarce resource. There is not enough vaccine yet to give everyone who is eligible a shot when they’re ready.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

A shortage of COVID-19 vaccine shipments to Jackson County will slow the effort to vaccinate senior citizens, which begins Monday for those 80 and older.
Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune A mass vaccination event is held at the Jackson County Expo on Friday.