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 has 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 rollout of the vaccine — in particular, who is currently eligible to get it — is dictated by the Oregon Health Authority. Presently, the state is in the first part of Phase 1A of vaccination. Those who can get vaccinated in this initial phase include health care workers, residents and staff at long-term care facilities, and first responders.
“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 or offer aid to someone with COVID-19, followed then by those living and working in a long-term care facility.
As of Tuesday morning, Pace said there have been 220 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 last 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 that 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 (this) 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 a flurry of movement to schedule shots for those on the lower tier of Phase 1A.
“That opened us up to a lot more people,” she said. “Organizing that and planning that and scheduling those people are a big task.”
She added the hope is for all Phase 1A initial vaccinations to be given within the next two weeks.
Second-dose administration is slated to begin Tuesday, 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. The OHA in a press release Thursday evening 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.”
The OHA did say that 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.
“There are two things that factor into this,” Pace said. “One, of course, is supply. We still don’t have a clear picture of when we will get more. If we get to the point where we still have vaccine on hand and we have vaccinated everyone in Phase 1A who has been vaccinated and have additional, we will be able to move through (the next phases of) vaccination.”
As for when the vaccine 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.”
As of Monday, there were 92 cases of COVID-19 in Wallowa County since the start of the pandemic. There has been a recent uptick, as 12 new cases have been reported since Jan. 5.
An informative COVID-19 vaccine page is available at the Wallowa County Health Care District’s website, www.wchcd.org, that will be updated as the district receives more vaccine information — including when it becomes available to more of the public.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated.