Leaders from the Portland area’s four largest hospital systems celebrated the opening Wednesday of the Portland area’s first mass COVID-19 vaccination site at the Oregon Convention Center in Northeast Portland.
The site held a soft open Wednesday for about 1,500 healthcare workers and others in Phase 1a of the vaccine rollout who are eligible to be immunized against COVID-19. The site plans to start vaccinating about 2,000 childcare, preschool and K-12 workers per day.
The site is expected to be open seven days a week by appointment only. Organizers say educators will be contacted by their employers with instructions on how to book appointments.
Officials plan to offer an online or phone booking system by the time the vaccines are eventually made available to segments of the general population not linked to particular employers — such as the planned rollout to Oregonians ages 80 and older starting Feb. 8.
The site could ramp up to 7,500 vaccinations per a day or more — if Oregon’s vaccine allotments from the federal government allow.
“This isn’t a short-term event, we will have it open for months,” said Wendy Watson, chief operating officer of Kaiser Permanente Northwest, during a Wednesday news conference with the four hospital systems that will be running the site.
Joining Kaiser are Legacy Health, Providence Health & Services and Oregon Health & Science University.
Organizers expect it to be the major vaccination center for the Portland area, although OHSU is planning a smaller drive-through vaccination site at one of Portland International Airport’s parking lots. The state also plans to rely on some mobile vaccinations sites to supply vaccination access to hard-to-reach communities.
When asked by a reporter why the Oregon Convention Center site was vaccinating people indoors, where the coronavirus and especially its more contagious U.K. variant can spread more easily, organizers said people will be spaced out at least 6 feet apart and organizers believe the site will be safe. Watson said bad weather was one reason for not holding vaccinations outdoors. Another was a drive-through site can’t vaccinate as many people each day as the indoor site.
“In and out, it’s pretty quick,” Watson said.
Portland’s new site is one of a few such mass vaccination sites in Oregon. That includes one at the Polk County Fairgrounds and another at the state fairgrounds in Salem. This week, educators started receiving vaccinations in Marion County — days earlier than the state’s official immunizations start date for daycare, preschool and K-12 employees Jan. 25, according to KATU.
Oregon as of Wednesday has administered about 225,000 doses, with the pace of inoculations picking up since a slow rollout. In fact, Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, said the big problem Oregon is bumping into now is getting enough vaccines to vaccination sites.
“Every single vaccinator that we had contact with last week, while we were doing 15,000 (vaccinations) a day, begged for more vaccine that just wasn’t available to allocate to them,” Allen said.
Allen said although the federal government is providing the vaccines at no direct cost to vaccine recipients, the health systems will be reimbursed for their operational costs running the Portland vaccination site. Allen said the Oregon Health Plan, Medicare, private insurance or a special fund for people without insurance will pay the health systems a set amount for each vaccination. But because that won’t likely cover their expenses, the state is looking into dipping into federal money recently passed by Congress for coronavirus-related costs.
Oregon on Dec. 16 began vaccinating health care workers, residents in long-term care and other medical professionals. Gov. Kate Brown is prioritizing teachers next, followed by Oregonians 80 and older, with an equity committee set to chime in with its recommendations before the governor sets the order after that.
Trent Green, chief operating officer of Legacy Health, asked for the public’s patience as the site ramps up.
“I know people are anxious,” Green said. “After months of this pandemic, it’s really hard to wait. I can tell you that our phones are ringing off the hook with people wanting to know when and where they can be vaccinated.”
Green continued: “Calling your doctor’s office or calling the hospital cannot speed up the process. Nor can calling your doctor’s office or the hospital change what phase you’re in.”
— Aimee Green; [email protected]