Oregon's two U.S. senators say the Army general in charge of COVID-19 vaccine distribution assured them Sunday that Oregon would receive its expected doses, after the federal government reduced one of its first shipments.
On Wednesday, Oregon state officials learned that the second federal shipment of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines would be 15,600 doses short of the anticipated figure, a 40% reduction. That made Oregon one of at least 14 states to see its allotment reduced by Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration's vaccination program.
Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) then asked for a phone call with Lt. Gen. Gustave F. Perna, who commands Operation Warp Speed. The senators say he reassured them that the reduction was a one-time snag, not an ongoing cutback.
"Sen. Wyden had this call scheduled with federal Operation Warp Speed officials to ensure Oregon is getting our fair share of vaccine allocation after reports surfaced that our state was receiving fewer doses than originally promised," says Wyden's spokesman, Henry Stern. "He and Sen. Merkley received assurances from those federal officials on today's call that Oregon will receive its proportionate allotment based on population and that all future communications about shipments will be more transparent."
Stern says Wyden will trust but verify: "Sen. Wyden will watchdog this commitment and all others from Operation Warp Speed officials to make sure that Oregon is treated equitably in the ongoing distribution of vaccines."
The reduction in the Dec. 20 shipment alarmed Oregon officials, including Gov. Kate Brown, because it complicated scheduling shots for frontline health care workers, and left Oregon wondering whether vaccine doses were in fact being proportionately distributed according to state population.
Merkley's spokeswoman, Sara Hottman, says Perna "assured Sen. Merkley that Oregon would get its full 1.2% allocation share of the vaccine supply, with both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in the mix."
Hottman tells WW that Perna said the reduction was applied across the country.
"He said that Operation Warp Speed miscalculated the number of manufactured vaccines versus 'releasable' vaccines," she says, "so all states took a cut to make sure that everyone who received a first dose of the vaccine got the second dose."
Oregonians eagerly await the arrival of vaccine doses. The state this week passed another bleak milestone: 100,000 cases since the pandemic began. That means more than 2 of every 100 state residents has contracted the virus.
The Oregon Health Authority has announced 181 deaths since Monday, Dec. 14. That makes this the deadliest week of the pandemic, by a significant margin, as the toll from an autumn surge continues to mount.