Benton County Phase 1b rollout going ‘very well’ though limited; faces ‘scarce’ vaccine supply

Phase 1B vaccinations start to take place. Those involved at the Prestige Senior Living West Hills are getting their vaccine.  

Sukhjot Sal, News Contributor

Phase 1b vaccination administrations are going smoothly, with Group 2 of the phase eligible to receive the vaccine starting Monday, Feb. 8, according to Benton County and Oregon Health Authority.

Group 1 of Phase 1b became eligible for vaccinations on Monday, Jan. 25, and includes public and private K-12 educators and staff, early childhood educators, child care providers and staff.

Group 2 of Phase 1b includes older Oregonians; ages 80 and up. The following groups, groups 3 through 5, will gradually make the vaccine available to people aged 65 and up on a weekly basis through March 1, prioritizing older age groups first.

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Jonathan Modie, the lead communications officer for the Public Health Divsion of OHA said it’s important to remember that meeting vaccination goals depends on getting enough vaccine supply from the federal government.

“It is going to take at least 3-4 weeks to ensure educators receive their first shot, and early April before we complete first dose vaccinations for seniors,” Modie said. “The state also continues to prioritize Oregonians in Phase 1A, while also ensuring Oregonians get their second dose of [the] vaccine.”

Modie noted that every senior will be able to get a vaccine, but most will not be able to be immunized for many weeks.

“There are more than 750,000 people aged 65 or older,” Modie said. “While Oregon has already vaccinated more than 100,000 people aged 60 and older, state health officials estimate it [will] take until mid-April to vaccinate more than 7 in 10 Oregon seniors.”

By early April, Modie said OHA expects to have allocated enough vaccines to immunize three quarters of all of Oregon’s currently eligible groups of people – including seniors.

At that point, OHA expects to be in a position to move on to other Phase 1b groups. That date is about one month earlier than OHA initially projected.

“Oregon continues to have the 4th lowest COVID-19 infection rate in the nation, the 4th lowest death rate and the 5th lowest death rate for seniors in the nation,” Modie noted. “Oregon vaccinators have now administered more than half a million vaccines. But despite all our progress, we know this pandemic is far from over and we face many challenges, including a short supply of vaccines.”

Therefore, Modie said they’re asking older adults for patience in exchange for this promise:  while it will take time, every senior who wants to get vaccinated will get a vaccine in coming weeks. The amount of vaccines Oregon receives from the federal government remains scarce.

Benton County Public Information Officer Alyssa Rash said Phase 1a vaccinations are still occurring, though they anticipate reaching the end of Phase 1a soon.

Rash also noted their clinics are currently limited by the number of doses that they receive from OHA, but if given enough supply, they could vaccinate approximately 2,000 people a day at the Reser mass vaccination clinics.

She said the County’s primary distribution method for Phase 1b will continue to be large clinics, but there are other ways for certain people like senior residents to get vaccinated.

For instance, Rice’s Pharmacy is providing at-home vaccinations for homebound residents – disabled and elderly – when eligible.

“We will be hosting rural clinics beginning in February so that our less-mobile community members, as well as those in our rural areas are able to receive vaccinations within their communities,” Rash said. “This may be a preferable option for some seniors who may wish to avoid the larger mass vaccination clinics at Reser.”

Prestige Senior Living West Hills is a long-term care facility for senior residents in Corvallis, Ore. 

Executive Director of Prestige Care, Travis Rice, said their residents and staff are primarily covered under Phase 1a of the COVID-19 vaccination program.

“Our first vaccine clinic took place on January 20, and we continue to collaborate closely with our partners at CVS pharmacies and the state and local health departments to schedule our second and third clinics in the coming weeks,” Rice said. “So far, 54 residents and 41 staff members have been vaccinated.”

These numbers represent 93% of their total staff and resident population having been vaccinated.

“Because both FDA-approved vaccines require two doses, our staff, residents and patients will have several opportunities to receive each dose at no cost to them,” Rice said.

At the Corvallis location, Prestige Senior Living West Hills, Rice explained that all residents and families were contacted by staff, who shared information about the vaccine clinics and obtained consent. 

Rice said they have also hosted several informational sessions for their employees and have been in close contact with them to coordinate scheduling. 

However, staff members and residents are not required to make an appointment; they will receive a vaccine if they attend the clinic.

“As an organization, we are extremely grateful for vaccine availability and strongly believe that this will be a lifesaving turning point in our fight against this virus,” Rice said. “We encourage all patients, residents and staff members in our Prestige family to provide consent to be vaccinated.”

According to Modie, the set up of vaccinations at Prestige Care mirrors that of other senior care facilities statewide.

There are additional plans in the works to provide more opportunities for pharmacies to administer vaccines.

According to Rash, Oregon is now working on a Federal Pharmacy Partnership which will enable some retail pharmacies to provide vaccinations, though they do not have a timeline for when this might be available. 

Overall, Rash said vaccination clinics are going very well and the County is excited to finally be underway with vaccinations after nearly a year of COVID-19 response.

“We have not wasted a single dose of vaccine, including surplus vaccines,” Rash said. 

For teachers, Modie said over the next week, they should begin receiving information about vaccination opportunities from the OHA, education and school officials through the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Early Learning Division, as well as other vaccination partners.

“Our vaccination partners are asking educators to wait [their] turn and be patient with [their] local public health authority, local health systems and hospitals, school districts and superintendents as they work together to provide vaccination opportunities for educators,” Modie said. “This is going to take time and may not go as quickly as we’d all like. Please resist the temptation to contact your doctor, local hospital or healthcare provider.”

Additionally, Modie said state and local officials ask teachers only attend special educator vaccination events or go to vaccination sites that are clearly designated as open to educators.

Starting Feb. 8, for Oregonians aged 80 and above who are able to get vaccinated, Modie explained that there are different ways to get vaccine information.

The OHA website provides three different methods to reach out and ask questions, either by calling, emailing or texting OHA directly.

“Please be aware that wait times may be long due to high call volumes,” Modie said. “There is an option to get a call back rather than wait on hold – in English and Spanish. Free interpretation is available for all other languages.”

Modie also shared OHA’s vaccination website, which features facts about COVID-19 vaccines and links to County websites and a statewide calendar of public vaccination clinics.