As of Saturday afternoon, 2,140 Douglas County residents had been vaccinated for COVID-19, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
So far, everyone vaccinated has fit into the first group, 1a, which includes health care workers, nursing home residents and staff, and first responders.
Exactly when county residents in other groups will receive their shots remains unknown. Announcements from the state and federal government about who might become eligible next for vaccinations and when they might get them have so far contained as many plot twists as a B film murder mystery.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown pronounced recently that teachers would begin receiving vaccines as early as Jan. 23, with people 80 and older to begin vaccination also in group 1b.
Then, the governor announced the state would follow brand new federal guidelines calling for all people 65 and up to be included in the next group.
Finally, on Friday the governor announced another new wrinkle. She said the state’s promise to open up the vaccines to those 65 and up next week had been based on the promise of U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar that the federal government would be releasing its entire supply of COVID-19 vaccines to states.
“(Y)esterday we received the disturbing news that this federal reserve of vaccines does not actually exist,” Brown said in a press release.
So where does that leave you?
Well, the state’s most recent plan, outlined Friday, looks like this:
If you are a teacher or other education, child care or preschool worker, you will become eligible for a vaccine Jan. 25.
If supplies allow, seniors 80 years old or older, will become eligible for a vaccine Feb. 8.
Those 75 or older will follow in a second wave. Those 70 or older will follow in a third, and those 65 and older will follow in a fourth.
People under 65 who have underlying conditions are not being included at the same priority level as seniors and teachers.
According to the U.S. Census’ 2019 figures, 26.3% of Douglas County’s 110,980 people are 65 or older.
That’s more than 29,000 seniors needing a vaccination in the quest for immunity from COVID-19, more than 10 times the number of county residents as a whole who have received at least one shot so far.
Some seniors will fit into the 1a group, as volunteer firefighters or nursing home residents or nurses, for example. But many will not.
The question now is, when will the seniors not in 1a — and the education workers — actually be able to receive a shot?
Public health officials don’t yet have an answer for that.
“It is a supply and demand issue, that we have no control over. While there is demand, and far more people that are eligible to get the vaccine, unfortunately, the supply chain of vaccines has not caught up to the demand,” Douglas County COVID-19 Response team spokesperson Tamara Howell said in an email.
Even before the discovery that the feds had no stockpile of vaccines, Douglas County health officials said they’d been given no guidelines or rules to follow on the change in priorities for who gets the vaccine.
For now, the focus remains on those in 1a.
“We also realize that age is the most potent predictor of bad outcomes, and we desperately want to protect our seniors,” Douglas County Public Health Officer Bob Dannenhoffer said in an email.
“We want to distribute vaccine quickly, fairly and in a manner that prioritizes those who are most at risk for serious illness and death from COVID, especially our senior population,” he said.
Dannenhoffer said local health officials are working diligently with their counterparts at the state to find a solution.
“If you want the vaccine, we want you to have it, and are working 24/7 to make that happen,” he said.
The first round of vaccines went directly from the federal government to specific groups eligible under 1a. Those included CHI Mercy Medical Center, Lower Umpqua Hospital, the Roseburg VA medical center, Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians and to the Walgreens/CVS pharmacy which arranged for distribution to nursing homes and other congregate care sites.
The second round was sent from the state to Local Public Health and to emergency medical services who are currently in the process of vaccinating EMS providers and other first responders.
Douglas Public Health Network had received 400 vaccines as of Jan. 12 and all of those have been administered to health care workers, mostly urgent care providers.
The health network has since received another 500 vaccines it distributed to local health care providers, including Aviva, SouthRiver Community Health Center, Umpqua Health Alliance, Nova Urgent Care and several small medical practices.
All of those vaccines are still just being given to people who are eligible under the 1a group. If you are in 1a, and haven’t been able to access a vaccine, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
If things continued at the present rate, it could take a year or more to vaccinate all of Douglas County, Howell said.
As for whether things are likely to speed up, she said, “we can only hope at this time.”
But she’s confident the county can handle the logistical challenges if distribution does speed up.
The county is currently working to build a network of vaccinators across the county, and looking at the possibility of some large-scale community events similar to the flu shot and COVID-19 testing clinics it’s already done.
“Locally, we have a great plan in place, and we are ready to go, we just need the vaccine,” she said.