Oregon works to shrink vaccine disparity | Local&State

Oregon works to shrink vaccine disparity | Local&State

The Oregon Health Authority will deploy vaccination vans to hard-to-reach communities as a way to eliminate the disparities created between those with easy access to COVID-19 vaccines and those facing barriers.

This comes at a time when daily case counts of COVID-19 have more than doubled in just over a month, Dr. Dean Sidelinger, Oregon Health Authority state epidemiologist, said Friday at a press conference.

As of Friday, Oregon had 173,626 COVID-19 cases, Sidelinger said. On March 6 the seven-day average number of cases was 249, but now the daily average is 595 cases.

COVID-19 cases have increased more than 20% for each of the past three weeks, Sidelinger said. With such high case counts, more counties have shifted from lower risk levels to more restrictive levels. At the end of March, 28 counties were in the lower to moderate risk tiers. On Friday there were 22 counties listed as lower or moderate risk.

“We’re all tired of fighting COVID-19,” Sidelinger said. “Tired of wearing our masks. Tired of missing our loved ones. And tired of keeping our distance. But we must all continue to fight.”

Sidelinger highlighted three social gatherings that caused recent outbreaks: a multi-night karaoke event that caused 36 people to test positive, hospitalized three and left one person dead, a small indoor concert that caused 15 people to test positive for COVID-19, and a backyard gathering where all 10 people who attended tested positive for COVID-19.

Since December 3 in 4 seniors 65 and older have been vaccinated. Starting Monday anyone 16 and older can sign up for a vaccination. In Central Oregon they can do that by going to www.centraloregoncovidvaccine.com.

Oregon Health Authority data highlights a vaccine disparity between white Oregonians and Latinos in particular. About 75% of Oregonians are white, but white people account for 50% of COVID-19 cases and 71% of vaccinations. About 13% of Oregonians are Hispanic or Latino, but they make up 25% of COVID-19 cases account for 6% of vaccinations.

A driver in the vaccine disparity is that Latinos in Oregon tend to be younger and often don’t work in the kind of jobs that had early access to vaccines.

The state has sent additional vaccines to federally qualified health centers, targeted migrant workers and worked with 170 community partners, and still access hasn’t been balanced, said Patrick Allen, Oregon Health Authority director, at a press conference Friday. Because it’s not enough, vans will be sent out to rural communities to vaccinate those interested, Allen said.

“As a state we can and need to do better,” Allen said. “Vaccinations in Oregon have not been administered as equitably as they need to be. The numbers are stark and clear. For too many people, race and income are predictors of whether you can access a COVID-19 vaccine or not.”

In Central Oregon, on March 17, Mosaic Medical’s 15 clinics began vaccinating anyone in this underserved population 45 and older through a federal pilot program.

Latinos make up 9% of the Central Oregon population, according to a study by the Latino Community Association. The same study states that the median age of Latinos in Central Oregon ranged from 22 to 28 years, compared to 43 to 51 years for the white population.

Vaccine disparity is a national issue that cannot rely upon just a speedy rollout of vaccine delivery systems such as through the Oregon Convention Center, the Salem fairgrounds or the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center, although they play an important role, Allen said. The vans will enable the vaccines to get to communities directly.

As of Thursday, 1.5 million Oregonians received at least one dose of the vaccine.  But because of concerns about rare blot clots, the state has halted the use of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. Earlier in the week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged states to temporarily stop using the vaccine given to 6.8 million people after six women who received the vaccine became seriously ill and one died.

That halt means Oregon will have 70,000 fewer vaccines available each week, Allen said.

“We’ll continue to see tight appointment availability in many parts of the state for the coming weeks at least until we know more about the availability of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” Allen said. “However, we have enough doses to vaccinate anyone 16 and older before summer.”

Gary A. Warner contributed to this report.

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