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VERIFY: Answering your questions about COVID-19 vaccine availability in Oregon

KGW's VERIFY team set out to answer your questions about Oregon's plan to roll out the COVID-19 vaccines.
Credit: KGW
A shipment of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine arrives at a Kaiser Permanente lab in Portland, Ore. on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Tens of thousands of doses of Pfizer and Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines have already arrived in Oregon, but process of getting enough people vaccinated to slow down transmission of the coronavirus will be gradual.

Oregon's rollout plan will be a phased approach, with people at the highest risk of COVID-19 infection going first. State health officials are still developing the next steps of the plan as more doses become available. 

With the increasing number of vaccines in the state, there is also an increasing number of questions about the way they will be distributed. 

KGW's VERIFY team set out to answer some of your questions about the COVID-19 vaccines and their availability in Oregon. 

Q: What groups in Oregon have priority for getting a COVID-19 vaccine?

A: The first doses of the vaccine are being administered to frontline health care workers and long-term care facility residents.  

Others included in the first step, known as Phase 1a of Oregon's vaccination plan, include emergency medical services providers and other first responders as well as those in outpatient care settings. 

Oregon Health Authority (OHA) expects that between 300,000 and 400,000 individuals will have access to vaccination during Phase 1a. 

The next population with vaccine priority includes "critical workers, people with underlying health conditions and those older than 65," according to OHA's website. 

The general population isn’t expected to be eligible for vaccination until sometime in spring 2021.

More information about vaccine priority can be found here. 

Q: How does someone know if they are eligible for the vaccine? 

A: Oregonians can learn if they're eligible for vaccination by staying up-to-date on the current phase of the state's vaccine distribution plan.

OHA spokesman Jonathan Modie said Oregon is using a phased plan because COVID-19 vaccines are still in short supply. 

As of Jan. 8, 2021, Oregon is in Phase 1a of the distribution plan, which is focused on health care workers, emergency medical services and long-term care employees and residents. 

"Those working in health care settings can talk to their employer to find out if theirs is a vaccine provider site, whether they are eligible to receive the vaccine, and when vaccinations will be scheduled, or they may be contacted by their employer to schedule a vaccination," said Modie. 

He said Oregon’s newly assembled COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee (VAC) is meeting to determine sequencing for phases beyond Phase 1a (Phases 1b, 1c and 2).

Q: Where do people in Phase 1a go to get vaccinated?

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) says it's working with local public health, health care partners and 211 to determine the best contacts in each community.

There is no central phone number to answer this question as of Jan. 11, 2021. 

"We will post the community contacts on our COVID-19 website as soon as we have them," OHA said. 

People are asked to check their local public health website to see if they have additional information.  

Q: Do people in Oregon need to show any proof they're in Phase 1a?  

A: OHA says it does not require proof and does not plan to request verification from vaccinating providers. 

Vaccine providers themselves may require an individual to declare in some way they are in a Phase 1a group. 

Q: How many Oregonians have been vaccinated?

A: The number of Oregonians who've been vaccinated is growing each day, and OHA has launched a dashboard on its website where people can check the exact number. 

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines each require two doses to be most effective.

As of Jan. 11, 2021, more than 99,000 Oregonians had received at least the first dose. Nearly 5,000 have received the second and final dose. 

Q: When will teachers and seniors be eligible for vaccination?

A: Teachers, child care providers, school district staff and seniors ages 65+ will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine starting Jan. 23, Gov. Kate Brown announced Jan. 12. 

Q: Has Gov. Kate Brown been vaccinated for COVID-19 yet?

A: No, she has not and likely won't be until later in the distribution process, when COVID-19 vaccines are more widely available to most Oregonians, according to a spokesperson.

Brown, 60, is not considered to be among the highest-risk groups for infection. Her office said she will continue to practice physical distancing and take precautions to prevent the spread of the virus. 

Q: Will people have to wait in long lines once COVID-19 vaccines become available to the general population?

A: The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) expects once COVID-19 vaccines are available to the general population, there will be many opportunities for people to get shots, said Jonathan Modie. 

He said some opportunities will include mass vaccination clinics, commercial pharmacies and visits to health care providers. 

These opportunities will hopefully mitigate the need to wait in long lines to get vaccinated. 

Q: Can employers in Oregon force you to get the vaccine?

A: Employers are legally allowed to have vaccine mandates with some exceptions. 

In Oregon, employees have the ability to seek medical, religious or philosophical exemptions to vaccine mandates. While all states allow medical exemptions, Oregon is one of 15 states that allows philosophical and religious exemptions.

Experts say that vaccine mandates are most likely to be implemented in hospitals, where flu shots are already mandated. This has not happened yet, largely because the COVID-19 vaccines have only received emergency use approval.

In other workplaces, employers may be more likely to encourage their workers to get immunized, rather than issue a mandate, for liability reasons.

Q: Will Oregon prisoners be vaccinated for COVID-19 before the general public? 

A: Some prisoners in Oregon who fall under the highest-risk category for COVID-19 infection will be vaccinated before the general public during Phase 1a of the state's rollout plan. 

The Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) received 400 vaccine doses on Dec. 28, most of which will go to staff members working alongside COVID-positive adults in custody.

According to DOC staff, all inmates will eventually be offered the vaccine, but the timeline is not clear. 

Vaccinations will not be mandatory, and the DOC is set to receive another round of vaccines during the week of Monday, Jan. 4.

Oregon's draft COVID-19 Vaccination Plan published in early November listed prisoners as one of several "critical populations" that also included long-term care facility residents, health care personnel, people 65 and older and people experiencing houselessness. This draft plan was subject to changes. 

Do you have something you want us to Verify? Email us at Verify@kgw.com.