Responding to widespread criticism of a sluggish COVID-19 vaccination drive, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown today announced that she will deploy the Oregon National Guard to assist with administering 12,000 vaccinations per day, in "an all-hands-on-deck effort."
The governor said guard members would first attend Salem Health's vaccination event at the Oregon State Fairgrounds this Saturday, Jan. 9, to provide logistical and nursing support.
But by Friday afternoon, her office clarified, and announced another delay: The National Guard officers would not be available until Tuesday, Jan. 12.
The state wants to reach its goal of 12,000 per day by the end of next week. This weekend, the goal is to administer 250 vaccinations per hour with the National Guard's assistance.
Brown said she spoke to Oregon National Guard Brig. Gen. William J. Prendergast IV and he agreed to deploy guardsmen.
"We continue to look at how we can use every single tool we have to swiftly vaccinate Oregonians," Brown said in a press briefing. "In that spirit, I've asked Gen. Prendergast to support and coordinate distribution efforts with local public health. We are deploying the National Guard to provide vaccination support."
What will the guard do? Major Stephen Bomar tells WW that the deployed guard members are trained medical providers and medics who will be administering the vaccines themselves. They will provide support by keeping track of the number of vaccines given to people as well as keeping the doses refrigerated.
The Oregon Health Authority is coordinating with different groups to reach the daily vaccination goal, Brown said, as well as Oregon Health & Science University, which is tracking down hard-to-reach health care professionals, such as in-home health care workers, behavioral health specialists and first responders.
OHA director Patrick Allen added: "As of Jan. 6, Oregon has received a cumulative total of 128,700 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 121,400 doses of Moderna vaccine for a total of 250,100 doses. As of yesterday, Oregon has vaccinated a total of 73,286 health care workers, first responders and others, as well as staff and residents at skilled nursing facilities."
Nationally, Oregon is currently in the middle of the pack for residents vaccinated per capita, with 1.5% of residents vaccinated. It's ahead of California at 1.3% but behind Washington at 1.6%. (The state fares far less well in an analysis of how much of its vaccine supply it has used, ranking third to last in the country.)
Allen says that because Oregon's infection rate was lower than many other states', Oregon is more susceptible to another spike that could result in more hospitalizations and deaths, so it's crucial that the state administer vaccinations at a faster rate.
"These partnerships and creative thinking are how we do it in Oregon," Gov. Brown says. "It's how we are going to achieve this critical mass community immunity we need."