PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — As COVID-19 cases continue to increase in Oregon, officials on Friday addressed the “stark” and “unacceptable” disparities in COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
The Oregonian/Oregon Live reported Friday that people in state’s wealthiest ZIP code are 58% vaccinated, while a low income community that has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic is 22% vaccinated.
“I want to recognize the fact that vaccinations in Oregon have not been administered as equitably as they need to be,” said Pat Allen, the director of the Oregon Health Authority. “The numbers are stark and clear. For too many people, race and income are predictors of whether you can access a COVID-19 vaccine or not.”
Vaccine disparities have been addressed by Oregon health officials since shots began being administered in December. At one point the Vaccine Advisory Committee discussed whether to prioritize racial minorities, but decided against it as they said people of color likely fell into other prioritized groups and due to concerns about legal issues if race was the focus.
In addition, migrant and seasonal farmworkers became eligible for the vaccine in March, the state has worked with 170 community-based organizations to inform and engage communities, Federally-Qualified Health Centers that serve minority populations have been sent vaccines to administer to those they serve — despite if people are eligible or not and vaccine clinics have been hosted in minority communities.
“We are doing more than we have ever done before and it is not enough,” said Gov. Kate Brown.
Based on data from the health authority, white people represent 75% of Oregonians. While they only comprise about 50% of coronavirus cases, they account for 71% of vaccinations.
People who are Latino or Hispanic represent 13% of Oregonians. However, they comprise 25% of COVID-19 cases and account for 6% of the vaccinations administered to date. The Black community makes up 2% of the state’s population and represent 2.5% of COVID-19 cases. They account for less than 2% of administered vaccine.
“We need to refocus, re-imagine and re-deploy our efforts to get vaccines into communities hardest hit and most at risk,” Allen said. “That takes time to build relationships, win trust and be there at the right place and time in the community when someone makes the decision to get vaccinated.”
Nearly one million Oregonians, or 23% of the state’s population, have been fully vaccinated. Beginning Monday, anyone who is 16 or older will be eligible for the shots.
As vaccine eligibility is set to ramp up, health officials warned that COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, deaths and the positivity rate in the state are continuing to increase.
“Recent data is troubling, showing that the virus is again on the march throughout our state sickening our friends and neighbors,” said Dean Sidelinger the state health officer of the Oregon Health Authority.
There has been a 20% increase in COVID-19 cases for three consecutive weeks, “eclipsing even the most pessimistic scenario in our most recent COVID-19 modeling,” Sidelinger said.
The positivity rate, although low compared to other states, has increased to 4.9%. Last week there were 47 coronavirus-related deaths, the state’s highest death toll in five weeks. In addition hospitals have reported a 17% increase in COVID-19 patients.
Oregon health officials say that COVID-19 variants are also rising rapidly.
“Today, we find ourselves at another inflection point,” Sidelinger said. “Our actions over the next few weeks will determine when and whether we are able escape the pandemic.”
Cline is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.