ENTERPRISE — More and more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are arriving in Wallowa County. But the opportunity to get inoculated is not available to the general public yet.
That was a point of emphasis for Wallowa Memorial Hospital Communications Director Brooke Pace in an interview with the Chieftain Friday, Jan. 8, noting she received numerous calls from residents on when they will be able to get vaccinated.
“We just want to stress that this isn’t open to the general public yet,” Pace said.
The Oregon Health Authority dictates the rollout of the vaccine — in particular, who is eligible to get it. The state is in the first part of Phase 1A of vaccination, meaning health care workers, residents and staff at long-term care facilities and first responders receive the vaccine first.
“This is a state rule. This is not a county rule,” Pace said. “We are just following the rules. We have a lot of people who are upset they don’t qualify yet. We’re not just cherry picking, we’re following the state guidelines. We’ll continue to do so as we receive more doses.”
The simple answer for why the general public cannot yet get the vaccine is supply and demand.
“The No. 1 reason for that is because demand far outweighs supply at this point in time,” Pace said. “Every state has a vaccine sequencing plan in effect to address those who are the highest risk and the most vulnerable to make sure those people are the first to receive the supply. Not everyone agrees with that assessment, but that is what has been put forth by the Oregon Health Authority.”
Health care workers are at the top of the list because of their likelihood to be in proximity to someone with COVID-19, followed then by those living and working in a long-term care facility.
As of Friday morning, Pace said there have been 160 doses of the vaccine administered in Wallowa County to those in Phase 1A. The county just received another shipment of 100 doses, raising the total dose count distributed to the county to 500.
Until this week, part of what Wallowa County had was to be held to use as second doses — given 28 days later — to complete the inoculation process. Pace said, though, the county has received guidance it could now use those as first doses, opening the door for further movement through Phase 1A.
“That number (of vaccinations given) will go up significantly beginning next week now that we have clearance to be able to vaccinate people who fall into group 3 and 4 in the Phase 1A,” Pace said.
That, Pace said, led to rush to schedule shots for those on the lower tier of Phase 1A. She added the hope is for all Phase 1A initial vaccinations to be given within the next two weeks.
Second-dose administration is set to begin Jan. 19. The county does have some autonomy on when it can move from one phase to the next, but who is in the next phase is not yet set by the state. OHA in a press release Thursday said the state’s Vaccine Advisory Committee will “co-create a vaccine sequencing plan focused on health equity to ensure the state’s vaccine distribution plan meets the needs of populations who are most at-risk and hardest hit by the pandemic.”
OHA said the next group to be made eligible for vaccination will be educators in pre-K through 12th grade.
How many doses are on-hand also plays a role in how the county moves through phases. As for when vaccines possibly could be available to the general public?
“We have absolutely no idea or indication at this time, because it relies on a multitude of factors,” Pace said. “It relies on the federal supply that is allocated to the state and then the supply that is allocated to Wallowa County. We haven’t seen manufacturing projections to even forecast what might be coming down the pipeline and in what time frame.”
Wallowa County had its highest one-day total of new COVID-19 cases in more than two months on Sunday, Jan. 10, when the Oregon Health Authority reported four new cases of the disease in the county. That brings the overall total since the start of the pandemic to 92.