Even with the state expanding COVID-19 vaccine eligibility, access to vaccines is still going to take some time, according to local public health officials.
“We’re trying to chip away at a mountain with one of those little mineral hammers,” Dr. Eric Gleason, a spokesperson for Coos Health & Wellness, said in a press conference Tuesday.
According to Gleason, phone lines at the agency continue to be clogged with callers inquiring about how and when to get a shot. Currently, vaccination events are open only to those who receive an invitation from CHW or their provider.
“Calling us for an appointment is really going to be a futility at this point,” Gleason said.
State officials have set the timeline for COVID-19 vaccine eligibility. Under that plan, people 75 and older became eligible for a vaccine Feb. 15, those over 70 will be eligible Feb. 22 and those over 65 will be eligible March 1.
But those timelines are easier said than done.
Gleason said CHW — which receives and distributes some, but not all, of the county’s vaccine allocations — will focus on vaccinating those first groups (the eldest individuals) before moving on to later groups (younger individuals), even if the state’s eligibility is expanded.
The issue is that the county and other providers haven’t received enough doses of the vaccine from the state to keep up with the state’s timeline.
“I just know that we get to work with what we’ve been given,” Gleason said. “We know the community is frustrated. We’re not holding back vaccine, we’re getting it out almost as soon as it comes in the door.”
Take the 80 and older population (which has been eligible for the vaccine under state guidelines since Feb. 8), for example: According to Gleason, over 2,000 people in that age range have already signed up on the county’s vaccine interest form.
Meanwhile, the county has only been able to fully vaccinate just over 2,200 people, according to state data — and that includes the health care workers, first responders and educational staff who were first on the list. (Another 3,600 individuals in the county have received their first of two doses.)
CHW itself expects to receive about 600 doses, which it distributes to some partners and uses for invitation-only vaccination events, according to Gleason.
“That’s not a lot, when you look at the number that we have to try to get vaccinated and the number that we’re given,” he said.
Winter weather will also have an impact: CHW and the Oregon Health Authority have said severe winter storms across the country have delayed some shipments of the vaccine.
CHW is still relying on its vaccination interest form, available for sign ups at cooshealthandwellness.org, according to Gleason. Officials use contact information submitted on the form to alert those interested in receiving the vaccine about upcoming vaccination events at CHW sites or other providers.
It’s currently the best way to receive information about vaccine eligibility in the county, Gleason said.
Coos ranks high in case rates statewide
According to the Oregon Health Authority’s Tuesday data, Coos County had around 297 cases of the virus per 100,000 in population between Jan. 31 and Feb. 13. That’s up from the previous two-week period.
Only three of Oregon’s 36 counties had higher per-person case rates during that time period: Jefferson County (population around 23,500) had 461 cases per 100,000 in population. Harney County (population around 7,400) had 734, and Lake County (population around 7,800) had 1,002.
The rest of Oregon’s counties had lower case rates, with the state averaging 181 cases per 100,000 in population for the period.
Fortunately, Coos County’s test positivity rate showed slight improvement over the past several weeks, with a rate of 8.8% over two weeks showing an improvement over the two previous reporting periods.
Still, that 8.8% positivity rate was the state’s fourth highest reported Tuesday.
According to CHW’s Becky Fairhurst, public health officials have linked a recent virus exposure at North Bend Middle School, which forced the entire sixth grade to quarantine, to a known source.
“We do know the source, and it wasn’t in the school setting,” Fairhurst said.
Fairhurst declined to say where exactly the case came from, but said it was linked to someone outside the school.
Coos County remains in the extreme-risk level of virus restrictions, and current case rates would suggest it’ll stay there for some time without a decrease in virus spread. The state will announce each county’s new category of virus restrictions Feb. 23.