Oregon will expand its ever-growing line for the COVID-19 vaccine to include family members of grocery store workers, transit operators and other frontline workers.
Gov. Kate Brown and Oregon Health Authority officials on Friday also said the state would open the floodgates for vaccine appointments to those aged 16 and older who have an expanded list of underlying health conditions as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — including current and former smokers, people who are merely overweight and not obese, Type 1 diabetics, people with hypertension and many other conditions.
The state acknowledged it doesn’t know how many unvaccinated people are included in this expanded pool, nor does it have estimates for how many identify as frontline workers or are in those households. Some people may already have been vaccinated due to other qualifying factors.
As of Friday, 28% of all Oregonians have received at least one dose of a vaccine, slightly below the national average. Oregon has fully vaccinated 17% of its more than 4 million people, slightly above the national average.
Expanding the qualifying health conditions “protects communities that face the highest risk,” the state’s top health official said, noting people of color are more likely to have certain health conditions that increase the likelihood of adverse health outcomes if they contract the virus.
Brown said it’s important to expand the vaccine line to bring in families of frontline workers, in part, because transportation is often a barrier for accessing vaccines. “If you’re a frontline worker making the effort, bring your family members and do it all together,” she said.
Patrick Allen, Oregon Health Authority director, said frontline workers are disproportionately people of color and their families are also at greater risk due to proximity to their loved ones.
“Short-circuiting family transmission protects loved ones of vulnerable frontline workers and in turn helps keep the virus from being passed into the workplace from frontline workers exposed at home,” Allen said in a Friday news conference.
The expanded eligibility comes as the state is approaching what Brown cautioned could be the “fourth surge of the virus” at our doorstep.
Here’s what else you need to know.
What’s the expanded list of health conditions that qualifies?
Here’s what the state posted Friday:
– Chronic kidney disease
– Chronic lung diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma (moderate-to-severe), interstitial lung disease, cystic fibrosis and pulmonary hypertension
– Dementia or other neurological conditions
– Diabetes (Type 1 or Type 2)
– Down syndrome
– Heart conditions (such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathies or hypertension
– HIV infection
– Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system)
– Liver Disease
– Overweight and obesity (defined as body mass index, or BMI, greater than 25 kg/m2)
– Sickle cell disease or thalassemia
– Smoking, current or former
– Solid organ or blood stem cell transplant
– Stroke or cerebrovascular disease
– Substance use disorder
Who is a frontline worker?
The state’s qualifications use the CDC’s guidelines, which includes grocery store and retail workers, community college and university staffers, the U.S. Postal Service, transit employees, news media, legal officials, elected officials and government workers, food service employees and much more. Here’s the full list.
I know people who work in retail who are getting a shot in Oregon already. Are some counties already vaccinating those workers?
Yes. Twenty-three of Oregon’s 36 counties are already vaccinating frontline workers and those peopled aged 16 to 44 with some certain health conditions (Baker, Benton, Coos, Clatsop, Crook, Deschutes, Douglas, Gilliam, Grant, Harney, Jefferson, Josephine, Klamath, Lake, Lane, Lincoln, Malheur, Marion, Morrow, Sherman, Umatilla, Union and Wheeler as of Friday). Starting April 5, the remaining 13 counties, including the tri-county area, will start scheduling frontline workers who are eligible for their shots. People 45 and older with qualifying conditions are already eligible.
I have type 1 diabetes and I am 42 years old, and I live in Lane County. What’s my situation?
You would be eligible to get a vaccine appointment immediately, since you are a member of group 7 in the state’s vaccination plan, which includes the frontline workers and those aged 16 to 44 with underlying conditions who have already been made eligible in the counties listed above. The newly expanded underlying conditions outlined Friday includes type 1 diabetics, so schedule away.
What about me? I am in the same boat as the person above, but I live in Washington County.
You will be eligible April 5, when your county is scheduled to move forward to younger people with underlying conditions and frontline workers.
Wait, if it’s important to stop transmission, why can’t I get my vaccine too? I am healthy but live with a person with those underlying health conditions? Can I get my shot now?
No, you can’t. The state didn’t explain why those family members wouldn’t be eligible while acknowledging family transmission is the main source of spread. During the news conference, Brown was asked why not open eligibility to all residents, which she said was a good question. She said the focus remains on those with high risk, which is a good way at targeting those who are frontline workers. She also noted Oregon is not getting enough vaccine per capita, a factor highlighted by The Oregonian/OregonLive Friday. “We will move heaven and earth to make sure we’re getting our fair share,” Brown said, adding that the state has a good relationship with the Biden administration.
What does this mean for all Oregonians? I’m healthy, I have none of those conditions, but I still want my vaccine.
Patrick Allen said despite some uncertainty about upcoming vaccine distribution due to “disruption” with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine pipeline, the state still intends to give counties the option of moving forward with vaccinating all adults 16 and older by April 26. Oregon remains committed to its timeline where all Oregonians statewide would be eligible for a vaccine appointment by May 1.
Does this mean that we are doing super well at vaccinating everyone so far?
Not necessarily. Oregon is increasingly concerned, in particular, about vaccination rates in some rural counties. While the state rate for vaccinating those 65 and older is just under 70%, it’s significantly lower in several counties. Allen said that seven counties — Douglas, Gilliam, Grant, Lake, Malheur, Morrow and Umatilla – have vaccinated less than half of their senior population.
I’m 17 and my mom works for TriMet. How do I schedule my appointment?
State leaders were a bit vague on specifics, just noting that “multiple appointments can be scheduled” through the state’s Get Vaccinated Oregon portal. Allen said those family members should submit their information to the state’s database, where residents are contacted when they are eligible.
Oregon Health Authority officials said updates to the getvaccinatedoregon.gov website are taking place for the transition, although it wasn’t immediately clear when the changes would happen.
Oregonians can also schedule appointments through pharmacies and local health agencies in many counties. Here’s the website with more information.
— Andrew Theen; email@example.com; 503-294-4026; @andrewtheen