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Oregon dentists trained to give vaccines

Oregon is the only state in the country that allows dentists to administer any vaccine and to any age group.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Training is expanding for Oregon dentists to administer vaccinations.

Oregon is the only state in the country that allows this without limitations on the type of vaccine or age group. Two other states allow dentists to give vaccines but only against the flu and only for adults. 

The Oregon Dental Association (ODA) pushed for the practice to become legal in 2019, with the help of OHSU and Permanente Dental Associates. Oregon lawmakers passed into law Oregon House Bill 2220, allowing dentists to prescribe and administer vaccines.

"Patients might go to the dentist more than they do their primary care provider," explained Mary Pat Califano, an instructor at OHSU School of Dentistry.

OHSU is Oregon's only dental school. It started by training about 200 students and faculty members to give flu shots last year, then opened training for dentists around the state this fall.

RELATED: Flu shot demand way up in Portland during COVID-19 pandemic

Kaiser Permanente Northwest had 21 dentists become certified.

"If it can be done conveniently, patients are more apt to actually get that vaccination done," said Dr. Dan Pihlstrom, a dentist at Kaiser Permanente Cedar Hills.

About 30 more dentists from around Oregon are enrolled for in-person training at OHSU in November. Capacity is limited during the COVID-19 pandemic.

OHSU noted it is too early to know how this program may be impacted by the future release of a COVID-19 vaccine. The medical group said it is partnering with federal, state and local leaders to ensure all Oregonians can have access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. 

OHSU spokesperson Franny White said each different type of vaccine has different requirements for safe storage and handling.

"Some of the COVID-19 vaccine candidates being studied now require ultra-cold storage, which might not typically exist at community dental clinics," White said. "If COVID-19 vaccines that require ultra-cold storage end up being approved for public use, each dental clinic will need to determine if they have the facilities needed, or are able to upgrade their facilities, to safely store that vaccine."

A May report from the Oregon Health Authority showed because of COVID-19 health concerns, 50% of families canceled or rescheduled immunizations for children and about 65% reduced or limited well-child visits.

"The immunization rate in Oregon is quite low," Califano noted.

The goal through OHSU's training is narrow that gap by providing patients with the vaccines they need at the dentist if they are not making it to their primary care doctor.

"Efforts like this really can help benefit patients by breaking down some of those barriers," Pihlstrom said. 

The American Dental Association endorsed Oregon's dentist vaccine program. OHSU plans to advocate for the program nationally next month by providing dental practices with information.

RELATED: COVID-19: What to do if you've been exposed or test positive