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Eligible Oregonians may wait weeks or months for COVID-19 vaccine appointment, hospital association head warns

Hospitals say those who are eligible for the vaccine could still wait weeks or months for an appointment. They're concerned the state has not made that clear enough.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The association that represents Oregon hospitals is asking the public to understand the reality of the state's vaccine supply and to be prepared to wait.

“When they are eligible it may take weeks or even months to actually schedule an appointment,” said Becky Hultberg, president and CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals & Health Systems.

Hultberg is concerned that Gov. Kate Brown's latest timeline for vaccinating Oregonians will create demand that the state simply won't be able to meet with its vaccine supply.

“We support those goals but we also believe we need to be realistic with the supply that we have and not give people false hope,” she said.

On Friday, the Oregon Health Authority released its new vaccination timeline. Beginning Jan. 25, teachers will be eligible for the vaccine. On Feb. 7, people 80 and older will be eligible, with progressively younger seniors added in the weeks that follow. By Feb. 28, seniors 65 and older will be eligible. But the timeline projects that by May, just 78% teachers and seniors will have gotten the shot.

“I think there's a recognition that this is going to take a long time,” said Hultberg. “I'm just not sure it's been explained well to the public. ”

On Friday, Gov. Brown defended her plan to vaccinate educators ahead of seniors, saying she's using every tool to get kids back in the classroom this year.

“It deserves being said again,” said Brown. “The long term mental health, social, emotional and academic impacts of our kids being out of the classroom are significant."

RELATED: Gov. Brown defends decision to prioritize Oregon's teachers over seniors for COVID-19 vaccines

Hultberg said to be clear, the association's concern is not with how the governor is prioritizing the vaccine; it's with over-expanding eligibility and the community's expectations.

“It's really hard to be put in a position where we know so many people are anxious to get the vaccine,” said Hultberg, “And we know that we're not going to have the supplies to deliver it to everybody when they want it.”

RELATED: Oregon vaccine committee adjusts tentative priority recommendations

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