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Oregon is expanding COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to include all family members of frontline workers.

Vaccination Eligibility

Oregon is moving forward with vaccinations, but health officials are urging the public not to let their guard down. A current surge of COVID cases in Columbia County could force new public restrictions.

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and Governor Kate Brown announced Friday, April 2, that the state is expanding its criteria of underlying health conditions to match the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) extended list.

"As we move into the days and weeks ahead, we will continue to deploy a vaccine strategy that is centered on prioritizing our most vulnerable, and ensuring access to the vaccine for everyone," Brown said. "To do this, we need to move in a manner that is both fast and fair."

Brown said said she is also asking Coordinated Care Organizations and commercial health insurance providers to reach out to their members with underlying conditions to share information about the importance of vaccinations, and how to get connected to a vaccine.

Brown warned that Oregon's increase in cases and hospitalizations over the past two weeks is cause for concern.

"It’s clear that, in Oregon and across the country, the fourth surge of this virus is at our doorstep." Brown said. "While Oregon’s case numbers fortunately haven’t matched those of other states seeing large spikes, our numbers are rising and we are back on alert."

Case surge in Columbia County

This week, Columbia County Public Health Director Michael Paul cautioned that the county's COVID-19 case increase is concerning and may force the county back to High Risk classification. That would mean increased public restrictions.

Columbia County moved from High to Moderate risk last week after case numbers decreased. Over the past seven days the county has seen a surge of cases linked to recent gatherings and activities in the north county, according to county public health officials.

Ten new COVID cases were reported in Columbia County Wednesday, 13 Thursday and 13 cases Friday, according to the OHA.

Paul stressed that people in Columbia County need to be aware not to let their guard down and to continue wearing face coverings in public, practice social distancing and wash hands frequently to slow the pandemic.

Chronicle In-depth coverage

Reporter Zack Demars monitored the Friday news briefing and has the following details.

As COVID-19 cases begin to rise again in Oregon, state officials are expanding the list of individuals eligible to receive a vaccine, despite a reduction in expected supply.

The update to the state’s vaccination plan came Friday in a press conference where Gov. Kate Brown and state health officials described the state’s next several months of pandemic response as a tug-of-war between vaccines and virus spread.

“Over the past two weeks, Oregon has seen our COVID case rates slowly rise. It’s clear that in Oregon and across the country, the fourth surge of this virus is at our doorstep,” Brown said. “But make no mistake, this is a race between the vaccines and the variants. It’s a critical moment for us all to double down so we can outrun this next wave.”

Brown and officials from the Oregon Health Authority announced expansions to the state’s vaccine eligibility: Starting Monday statewide, the household family members of frontline workers, as well as those with a now-wider set of underlying health conditions, will be eligible to receive a shot.

“We know it’s not easy for everyone to find the time and the transportation to get to a vaccination appointment," Brown said. "If you’re a frontline worker making the effort, bring your family members and do it all together.”

The new list of eligible underlying health conditions brings the state’s rules in line with federal recommendations, and now includes the following:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic lung conditions including COPD, asthma, cystic fibrosis and pulmonary hypertension
  • Down Syndrome
  • Dementia or other neurological conditions
  • Diabetes, type 1 or 2
  • Heart conditions
  • HIV infection
  • Weakened immune systems
  • Liver disease
  • Overweight or obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking, current or former
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Solid organ or blood stem cell transplant
  • Stroke or other cerebrovascular disease
  • Substance use disorder

A complete list of eligibility definitions is available on the state’s website at covidvaccine.oregon.gov/

Friday’s change comes as the virus “appears to be rebounding,” according to State Health Officer Dr. Dean Sidelinger.

“We continue to see a general trend of increasing daily cases along with virus-related hospitalizations,” Sidelinger said.

The increases mean some counties could return to higher levels of virus restrictions in the coming weeks as case rates continue to rise, Sidelinger said.

The health officials said they had no plans to change the current virus restriction framework, despite objections from some that the risk level model is too restrictive on businesses, and objections from others that the state should be enacting more restrictions in the face of increased virus spread.

Instead, Brown, Sidelinger and OHA Director Patrick Allen repeatedly stressed the actions residents can take to slow the spread of the virus, even if they’ve already been fully vaccinated: Wearing face coverings, washing hands, maintaining social distancing and getting vaccinated when possible.

“The good news is, now when we face a surge, we know how to protect ourselves and others, with powerful safety measures like mask wearing and avoiding large social gatherings. And we have three safe and effective vaccines rapidly rolling out,” Brown said.

Still, meeting the state’s original vaccination targets is looking to be less of a possibility, as vaccine manufacturer Johnson & Johnson announced this week a production error could force it throw out millions of not-yet-distributed doses.

“That shortfall results in about an eight- or nine-day setback in the timeframe when cumulative doses in Oregon would exceed the number of people who are eligible,” Allen said.

In other words, the state’s projection of when it’ll have vaccinated all eligible adults is moving past its previous late-May projection.

“Oregon will not delay our vaccine eligibility timelines despite the disruption in Johnson & Johnson doses,” Allen said. “However, we may need to temper our hopes of having enough doses to vaccinate all Oregonians over 16 by late May, and bump that expectation back a couple of weeks.”

Allen also said some regions of the state have begun to see a concerning trend of seniors choosing to wait to the get the vaccine, instead of getting it as they become eligible.

Seven in 10 seniors have already gotten vaccinated, but Allen said several counties report less than five in 10 have been vaccinated due to low demand, including Douglas, Gillam, Grant, Lake, Malheur, Morrow and Umatilla.

“The serious risk the virus poses to older adults far outweighs the temporary discomfort and disruption you might experience from getting a vaccine,” Allen said, encouraging older adults not to wait to get vaccinated.

And Sidelinger announced the state detected more than 200 previously unreported cases of a California variant of the virus, which the CDC says can spread more quickly and is less susceptible to some treatments and vaccines.

Those variants and the state’s recent increases in cases suggest a continued need to stay vigilant, according to Brown.

“I’m obviously very concerned about the increased spread of the virus throughout Oregon," Brown said. "That’s why we are working hard to get more Oregonians to get vaccinated, particularly our most vulnerable populations. I’m asking Oregonians to continue to rely on safety measures.”

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