REMARKS AS PREPARED
Governor Kate Brown
Press Conference - Vaccine Update
December 11, 2020
Thank you for joining us today. I’m here to give an update on COVID-19 and am joined virtually by:
• Pat Allen, Director of the Oregon Health Authority;
• Dr. Dean Sidelinger, our state epidemiologist;
• And Darrah Isaacson, a special guest joining us today. Darrah was diagnosed with COVID-19 several months ago, and is still experiencing chronic symptoms. She’s here to share her story with us.
With our first positive test on February 28th, Oregon had the second case in the nation of COVID-19 not connected to travel or other known cases.
Despite having one of the earliest outbreaks — and even with the dire challenge of the recent nationwide surge — Oregon has the 5th lowest COVID-19 case rate in the nation. I know this is thanks in large part to the tremendous efforts of Oregonians, who continue to take actions to stop the spread of this virus.
Yes, we’ve done relatively well compared to the nation as a whole. Yet, as of today, more than 1,120 Oregonians have lost their lives to COVID-19. I don’t want to lose one more.
I know Oregonians have sacrificed a lot, but we can’t sustain those sacrifices forever. That’s why we’re planning to do everything we can as we gear up for the vaccine campaign of our lifetimes, including:
• Distributing adequate supplies of vaccines to Oregon communities as quickly as possible;
• Prioritizing our vaccination distribution among the hardest hit and most at-risk. We will decide our priorities using an equity lens, with input from a diverse range of community voices, so we have full buy-in from communities who, despite having endured the worst health and economic effects of the pandemic, have historical reasons to be wary of public agencies and the established health care system; And we will be
• Launching an intensive and culturally-responsive outreach effort to build trust and confidence in the vaccines — especially among communities of color and other vaccine-hesitant communities — so we can achieve a vaccination rate that gives us the critical mass of immunity we need to eliminate COVID-19 in Oregon.
As you know, by the end of December, Oregon expects to receive 147,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Oregon is a national leader in rapid, statewide distribution of vaccines against vaccine-preventable diseases, such as influenza, measles, mumps and rubella. We have a proven, efficient and reliable system for distributing vaccines through a broad network of health care providers, health systems, local public health programs, tribes and community non-profits.
With a 94 percent health coverage rate and over 1.4 million members of the Oregon Health Plan enrolled in our innovative, cost-saving and primary-care focused coordinated care organizations, we have the policies and programs in place to vaccinate all Oregonians.
We’re pulling all those levers.
State health officials have been enrolling vaccine provider sites in the COVID-19 vaccination program so we can begin allocating doses of the vaccine to those locations within days after they arrive in Oregon.
Hospitals will be the primary sites for immunization of the first group of vaccine recipients. State health officials have set-up a statewide “cold chain” network of locations that can provide ultra-cold storage for the Pfizer vaccine, which has to be stored at about negative 94 degrees Fahrenheit.
We estimate that approximately 100,000 Oregonians will receive their first vaccine doses by the end of the year.
With 300,000 health care workers in the state, the first doses will be prioritized for staff who work at hospitals and other in-patient facilities and have direct patient contact, especially with COVID-19 patients. That will include people in vital roles, like housekeeping and food services.
We’ll then expand to outpatient and other settings, including behavioral health programs and facilities that meet the needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
We believe that prioritizing all health care staff in patient-facing roles, not just medical professionals, is a necessary first step in rectifying some of the health and social inequities of the pandemic.
We think this step will also help slow community spread, especially among communities of color who comprise a disproportionate share of the workforce among non-medical staff in hospitals and at nursing homes.
Next, we need to vaccinate essential workers. As you know, states are responsible for making difficult decisions about how we prioritize the heroes who’ve kept us going throughout the pandemic.
The Oregon Health Authority has put equity at the center of our state’s COVID-19 response. Through OHA, we’ve funded more than 200 non-profit, community-based organizations to help with contact tracing, maintain housing, get meals to struggling families struggling, and provide mental health support.
We’ll draw on these relationships, along with our connections to other stakeholders, to convene a Vaccine Advisory Council that’ll inform the way we prioritize people working in essential worker roles. More to come on that soon.
We believe authentic and equitable community engagement is vital to achieving community immunity in Oregon. If our communities don’t have a voice in deciding who gets a vaccine and when, state health officials won’t be able to win the trust and confidence of people our health care system has failed to serve well. And we’ll continue to see unacceptable health disparities and low vaccination rates across the state.
You’ve heard this before, but I’ll say it again. The vaccines won’t save us from the pandemic. Vaccinations will.
In a September survey, only 4 in 10 Oregonians said they would be “certain” to get a COVID-19 vaccine. We have our work cut out for us. Especially, in an environment poisoned by the current administration’s polarization and politicization of the pandemic response.
And as we wait for wide distributions of vaccines, one of our most important challenges is to remind Oregonians to keep-up their guard. We need you all to keep wearing masks, limiting get-togethers and maintaining social distance until we achieve community immunity. Thank you for your actions so far, and thank you in advance for continuing them over the holidays, and in the difficult months ahead.
This vaccine arrives in the throes of a raging pandemic that the current administration has done as much to aggravate as mitigate. States are doing what we can. But a competent federal partnership has been missing.
Oregonians are hurting. We need federal support to keep Oregonians in their homes and keep businesses operating. It’s true we’re all in this together, but the impact of COVID-19 hasn’t been borne equally or equitably. We’re all in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat.
In Oregon, we will need to vaccinate more than 10,000 people per day to immunize 3 million Oregonians, or about three-quarters of our state. That’s the scale we need to achieve community-wide immunity. It’s a tall order and we can’t do it without federal resources to deliver the doses and support our distribution and outreach efforts.
And until we can reach those coveted levels of immunity, we all must stay the course and continue to practice the safety measures we know can make an impact and stop the spread of this virus. I am so grateful to the majority of Oregonians who are following the recommendations of our public health experts by physically distancing, wearing a mask and limiting gatherings.
Still, there are some who feel they are invisible to this virus. That they can’t get it, or spread it. And when they don’t follow public health measures, their actions put us all at risk.
Data shows that more than half of Oregon’s cases are among people under 40.
So it’s not just the elderly that get this virus. A lot of young people are at serious risk. And just because you’re young doesn’t mean you automatically can survive this virus, or escape with few symptoms.
I want to introduce you to a brave young woman, Darrah, who is here with us today to share her experience with COVID-19. Speaking to Darrah, what really left an impression on me is not only that she’s been suffering from the effects of COVID-19 for months, but also how difficult it has been on her family, including her five-year-old daughter. I will let her tell you more. Over to you, Darrah.