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400,000 Oregonians now eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, but system to get one still isn't set up

The state health authority hopes to vaccinate all frontline health care workers by mid-February.

PORTLAND, Oregon — The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) declared Tuesday that anyone in phase 1A of the state's COVID-19 vaccination plan is now eligible for to get a vaccine. Its an attempt to speed up the process of getting shots to more people.

OHA Director Patrick Allen said the move would make roughly 400,000 people eligible to get the shots right away.

What the agency did not do is tell anyone outside of hospitals or nursing homes how to get those vaccines.

Many health care providers who do not work for hospital systems are now eligible. But some, like physical therapist Susan Weedall, have tried for weeks to find out how and when they can get vaccinated, with no success.

“It’s frustrating. It's a very large group and I’m really concerned that there’s no way to contact us directly. So it seems to be up to us to just continue to call and ask on a daily basis to see what our options are for ourselves and our patients,” she said.

The OHA has been criticized for not planning the entire vaccine rollout better.

Psychiatrist Howard Weinstein is also now eligible for vaccination. He too has tried to figure out how and where he can get his shot.

“Even if they didn't have all the guidelines you can still think things through. This is how we'll handle it. These are the people we'll use. These are the places we'll use. Why not? What’s happened? I'm discouraged. Disappointed and discouraged,” he said.

Dr. Weinstein is 79 years old and in private practice. He wants to be vaccinated so he can better treat his patients.

“I would feel freer to see people in person. And at this time, there are many people that have mental health issues. So, I think I’m in an important, always have been I feel in an important field, but even more so now. I think it’s critical now,” he said.

Its likely the state did not provide any direction on how all those people in group 1A can get vaccinated because there is no place for them to go at the moment.

Late Wednesday, OHA communications director Robb Cowie issued a statement that the state is working to set up the systems to get more people vaccinated.

“Oregon is taking immediate steps to simplify the process for health care workers, first responders and other workers who provide frontline care to Oregonians to get vaccinated,” Cowie wrote.

“If you’re in a frontline role, and you work outside a hospital or a skilled nursing facility, you’ll be eligible to get vaccinated sooner. OHA is working with local public health agencies, hospitals, local clinics and pharmacies to arrange opportunities for you to get vaccinated in your community."

Cowie concluded by saying the health authority’s goal is to ensure every frontline health care worker has the chance to be vaccinated by mid-February as long as the federal government provides the state with the number of vaccines promised. 

Have a story for Pat? Email him at pdooris@kgw.com

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