PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Gov. Kate Brown said Friday that plans to vaccinate Oregon residents over 65 starting next week would have to be delayed and scaled back substantially as she accused the Trump administration of backtracking on a promise of more than 100,000 additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from the federal reserve.
State health officials announced earlier this week that vaccine eligibility would be expanded to educators and seniors beginning Jan. 23. However, following news that there is “no federal reserve” of doses, Brown said she has limited vaccinations to educators beginning Jan. 25 and to people 80 or older on Feb. 8 — with a 12-week rollout to reach all seniors who are 65 and over.
“I am shocked and appalled that the federal government would set an expectation with the American people, on which they knew they could not deliver with such grave consequences,” Brown said.
Brown said in a statement earlier Friday that she was told late Thursday by Gen. Gustave F. Perna, the leader of the “Operation Warp Speed” federal vaccine effort, that states will not be receiving increased shipments of vaccines from the national stockpile next week “because there is no federal reserve of doses.”
“Despite clear statements just a couple of day earlier, (Perna) said there were actually no extra vaccines sitting on their shelves," the governor said. “Let me be very clear, this is deception on a national scale.”
Oregon announced earlier this week that it would expand vaccine eligibility to Oregon's roughly 760,000 residents who are 65 and older, K-12 teachers and child care providers because of promises that the state's vaccine allotment was to be increased. The news was welcomed, particularly by teachers who are headed back to in-person learning next month in some school districts.
“Just a few days ago, we heard the federal government was releasing the entire federal supply,” Brown said. “We began adjusting distribution plans. We then learned no increased shipments were coming.”
Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority said that following conversations with the federal government earlier this week, Oregon officials expected to receive approximately 282,000 or more doses of the vaccine. But now, it will only receive the 154,000 originally promised.
Allen wrote in a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar late Thursday that the change in dose allotments, if true, would derail Oregon’s plans.
Brown and health officials presented a new distribution plan Friday.
“While the Trump administration pulled the rug out from underneath us like a cruel joke, let me assure you that Oregon’s priorities and my priorities have not changed," Brown said.
Michael Pratt, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said there has been no reduction in doses shipped to states.
The governor announced that beginning Jan. 25, educators and school staff will begin receiving doses of the vaccine.
“I made this decision based on the fact that we have got to get our children back in school,” Brown said as she became emotional and choked up as she spoke. “I know families where 12 and 13-year-olds are attempting suicide.”
“Schools are a place of social interaction," she added. “They are a place where young people can get their behavioral health and emotional supports met. They are also a place where our kids can get educated."
Two weeks later, on Feb. 8, people 80 and older could begin being vaccinated.
Based on data provided by the Oregon Health Authority, people who are 80 or older account for more than 50% of the coronavirus-related deaths in the state. People who are 60 or older account for 91%.
Week by week the vaccination eligibility for elderly age groups is expected to expand; Meaning, on Feb. 15 people 75 or older may be eligible. On Feb 22 people 70 or older will be eligible; and on March 1 people 65 or older may be eligible.
Health officials say they believe it will take 12 weeks to vaccinate all 800,000 people who are 65 or older.
Brown said while she remains committed to vaccinating Oregon's seniors quickly, news of less doses has slowed that effort.
“I am certainly demanding answers from our Trump administration,” Brown said. “Their empty promises are literally playing with people’s lives."
On Thursday, officials from the Oregon Health Authority announced that vaccination sites had met the goal of administering a total of 12,000 coronavirus vaccine doses a day. The state has administered a cumulative total of 146,137 first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
At Mary’s Woods Senior Living, a retirement community in the suburbs of Portland, the news of fewer doses hit hard.
Several residents at the retirement’s live-in care facility have COVID-19. Some in its independent living apartments, in a separate area of the campus, are terrified the virus could spread to them soon.
“My husband was just saying it could be another day or two before we get the vaccine, but I guess that’s not the case now,“ said Joan Burns, 75, who was visiting with her daughter at an outdoor table at a café on campus.
Burns said she has been isolated for months and can only see her daughter outside for brief visits.
“I have to conserve my energy so I can’t take it too personally. But I’m pretty disappointed,” she said. “We’re sequestered, and it’s difficult to talk to anybody. I am as anxious as I’ve ever been, and I know it’s escalating. We’re just playing the odds right now, really.”