PORTLAND – Oregon’s top public health official says the governor needs to “start raising a ruckus” over what he sees as an unfair supply of the COVID-19 vaccine sent to Oregon by the federal government compared to other states.
Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen said in a letter to Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, that if Oregon were to get the same amount of vaccine doses per capita as California, Oregon could have vaccinated an additional 150,000 residents by now, the Oregonian reported Friday.
If Oregon got as much vaccine as Kansas, that number would rise to 227,000 additional Oregonians vaccinated; in Wyoming, the tally would be, 370,000 additional Oregonians inoculated, he wrote.
Oregon’s vaccine allocation from the federal government is coming into sharper focus following reporting by the Oregonian, which last month showed the state falling backward in shots administered compared to other states.
Oregon ranked 39th in doses administered per capita from Feb. 14 to March 14 despite receiving middle-of-the pack allocations at the time.
Allen wrote about his struggles to get an explanation for what seems like an “extremely inequitable” process.
He didn’t know if the issue should be directed to the White House, the head of the federal COVID-19 vaccine response or to Oregon’s Congressional delegation.
But, he advised, it seems “we at least need to start raising a ruckus.”
After Allen highlighted the apparent disparities to the governor’s office, officials subsequently contacted the White House COVID-19 Response Team, Brown’s spokesperson Charles Boyle told the newspaper in an email.
Boyle said several other governors also expressed concern about allocations falling short, too. That prompted a meeting Thursday morning with the Biden Administration in which officials from Oregon and other states asked for greater transparency and explanations, Boyle said.
“We are continuing to monitor this situation, to ensure that Oregonians have fair access to the federal government’s vaccine supplies,” Boyle said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website says vaccines are allocated based on the adult population of each state. The website also acknowledges factors that might lead to one state receiving more: Doses that are sent directly by the federal government to tribes and federal entities such as the Veterans Administration and military bases, for example.
Oregon’s public health officials say they don’t have detailed data to show if Oregon is getting shorted even after accounting for extra doses that went to tribes and other entities.
But it’s clear that more doses are going to states with, for example, high populations of indigenous people associated with tribes.
Alaska, with about 15% of its population who are Alaska Natives or Native Americans and a high proportion of military personnel, leads the nation in the highest per capita vaccine doses sent there – more than 84,000 per every 100,000 residents. Alaska also receives an entire month’s worth of shipments at once due to its remote location, skewing its numbers higher just after that shipment arrives.
Other states with sizable tribal populations, such as New Mexico and South Dakota, also received high per capita doses at about 71,000 to 72,000 doses per 100,000 residents.
All three states rank within the top 10 states in overall percentages of their residents partially and fully inoculated against the novel coronavirus.
Oregon, with just under 2% of its population identifying as Native American and relatively few military personnel, has received about 59,000 doses per 100,000 residents, ranking it 36th in per capita doses delivered by the federal government.
Allen, the Oregon Health Authority director, said he suspects there’s a direct correlation between that and Oregon’s rank as 35th in the nation for the percent of residents who’ve received at least one shot.
“We could be vaccinating faster, especially in the metro area, with more doses,” Allen said.
As of Thursday, nearly 1.2 million Oregonians are at least partially inoculated. That’s about 28% of the state’s population, one percentage point behind the national average.
Oregon has the fourth-lowest number of cases and fifth-lowest number of deaths since the pandemic began.
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