Itemizer-Observer

RICKREALL – West Valley Hospital expanded its COVID-19 vaccination effort last week during a two-day clinic at Polk County Fairgrounds, where it continued to offer doses to those in the tier 1a group.

Before last week’s clinic, West Valley had vaccinated 1,700 residents who are part of phase 1a, which includes health care workers, first responders, and residents and workers of long-term care facilities.

“West Valley Hospital is here for our community and the opportunity to offer vaccines for those in Phase 1a is another way for us to demonstrate our connection. We are proud to be leading vaccination efforts in Polk County,” said Brandon Schmidgall, WVH chief administrative officer. “Our staff continue putting in long hours to make it happen, but it is an honor to serve our neighbors during this historic time.”

WVH partnered with Polk County Public Health, Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Western Oregon University and emergency responders — in case someone had a reaction to the vaccine — to put on the clinic, said Jenn Von Derahe, the community outreach administrator at West Valley Hospital.

As of Tuesday morning, there wasn’t another clinic scheduled, but Von Derahe said people should check the Salem Health (Salem Health operates WVH) website under the Polk County tab to find out information about the next clinic and what they need to do to register. The website is salemhealth.org.

“We just ask people to check the website for current information on vaccine availability and location of distribution and also what tier we are on. Currently we are on 1a, and we will share current information when we switch tiers. As soon as we find out, we load it,” Von Derahe said.

People at WVH clinics will receive the Moderna vaccine and a card to remind them of when to get their second dose between 22 to 35 days after the first.

Van Derahe said people must get the same brand or vaccine, either Pfizer or Moderna, for both shots and recommends getting the second dose with the same county and organization as the first dose. People have the choice to get the vaccine in the county in which they either live or work.

Von Derahe said people should register online to make the vaccination experience go smoother.

“We recommend that people sign up for a My Chart account, because then they can e-register. If you e-register, you can have all your paperwork taken care of by the time you get here and you just come,” she said.

The state of Oregon will expand vaccine eligibility to educators starting on Jan. 25. After that, people in the 65 and older age group will become eligible, starting with those 80 and older on Feb. 8.

Gov. Kate Brown and state health officials had hoped to start vaccinating educators and seniors at the same time, but that plan was based on an announcement last week that the federal government planned to release reserve vaccine doses.

State officials estimated that Oregon would receive an up to 200,000  extra doses, enough to begin vaccinating both groups. However, late last week, the federal government announced there wouldn’t be reserve shipments.

As a result, the state had to revert to its original plan of vaccinating educators first, a move that was questioned at Brown’s press conference on Friday.

When asked why the state was prioritizing educators over seniors, which have the highest risk of dying from COVID-19, Brown emphasized that many students are struggling with comprehensive distance learning. She also stressed the mental health consequences of keeping schools closed, citing evidence that more students are contemplating suicide.

“I made the decision based on information, based on conversations with Dr. (Dean) Sidelinger (state health officer with Oregon Heath Authority)and others at the Oregon Health Authority that that is the safest way for us to get our children back in the classroom,” Brown said.

OHA Director Patrick Allen said educators — teachers and school staff — represent about 100,000 Oregonians and the state could administer first doses in about two weeks.

Brown said she is unaware of any other states that have plans to vaccinate teachers before seniors.

“We are all making different decisions, and we are all doing the best job we can with the information and tools and resources that we’ve been given by the federal government,” she said.

Trent Green, the CEO of Legacy Health, said he does not take a stance on vaccination priority decisions, but supported the prioritization of educators as a practical move. He said school employees are a highly organized group and could be vaccinated quickly.

“It would actually allow us to get to those populations that will be a little bit more difficult for us to communicate with and to schedule now,” Green said.

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