The first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were administered in Oregon on Wednesday, beginning a process that won't likely be finished until summer.
Two Portland area hospitals and one in Ontario in Malheur County took part in a live video feed of the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine being administered to health care workers. The vaccine requires two shots, with about three weeks in between.
Gov. Kate Brown said it had been 292 days since the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Oregon.
"This is truly the moment we have all been waiting for," Brown said during the event. "The beginning of the next chapter of the epidemic."
The symbolic first shots were given at Legacy Health and the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, and Saint Alphonsus in Ontario. The Ontario hospital said it had already started inoculations earlier in the day.
"In the last two hours, we have vaccinated over 20 frontline caregivers, including providers, nurses, respiratory therapists, radiology techs and lab," said St. Alphonsus Chief Nursing Officer Dina Ellwanger.
Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen said the state so far has received 5,800 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, with more coming in the next two weeks.
If a second vaccine made by Moderna is approved as expected by the Food and Drug Administration, Allen said the state will have enough vaccine by the end of the year to inoculate 100,000 people.
For most Oregonians, the vaccine is months away — perhaps as late as summer, according to comments by health officials during the event.
The first doses are going to health care workers and other facility staff who are likely to come into contact with COVID-19 positive patients, or their waste products.
The second group to get the shots will be older residents of nursing homes and other congregate care facilities who have underlying conditions that make them especially vulnerable. Staff at the facilities will also be inoculated. About half of all deaths in Oregon have occurred in congregate care facilities.
The additional rankings for the next set of vaccines is under review with input from community groups, Allen said. Essential workers and those over 65 with underlying conditions such as heart disease and diabetes are expected to be priorities.
Allen and Brown said there is some indication that the recent rise in infections is starting to slow. But state officials have warned that the "darkest days" of the pandemic that began in February are still to come.
The current forecast from the The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle, which is among the metrics used by federal and state officials, forecasts that at current rates, the death toll nationwide is on track to top 500,000 by April 1, including more than 5,000 in Oregon.
Brown declined to comment on the forecast, saying instead that Oregonians needed to keep up with limited activity, social distancing, wearing masks and washing their hands frequently.
The press conference came amid a flurry of coronavirus-related news in recent days.
Brown called a one-day special session for Monday to deal with the financial fallout of the COVID-19 crisis.
The first Pfizer vaccines arrived in Oregon on Monday.
The state set a new single-day death count of 54 on Tuesday, while the total number of cases since February neared 100,000 and deaths topped 1,000.
As of Wednesday, there have been more than 16.7 million cases and 300,841 deaths in the United States and nearly 73.8 million cases and over 1.64 million deaths.
Congress appeared to be — possibly — closing in on a compromise COVID-19 stimulus package that includes direct payments, supplemental (though reduced) federal unemployment help and aid to businesses. What it doesn't include is money for state and local governments to backfill their budgets from COVID-19 costs.