December 15, 2020

Multnomah County Public Health officials say they are cautiously optimistic about a vaccine for COVID-19, calling its development a remarkable achievement, but warning that it will not provide an immediate return to normal.

“It was a year ago at this time approximately that the very first reports were emerging out of Wuhan, China, of the new coronavirus. It is incredible to be here a year later, talking to you about a vaccine,’’ Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines told the Board of County Commissioners.“But we want to be really clear that while there's incredibly good news that we're sharing today, there's still a lot of work to be done and a lot of people still suffering the consequences of this virus.’’

Dr. Vines and Public Health Director Jessica Guernsey spoke Tuesday, Dec. 15 at a briefing a day after Oregon’s first shipment of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines arrived at Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland.

Multnomah County expects to receive more than 100,000 vaccines in the next month, to be given to healthcare providers, long-term care facilities, and skilled nursing facilities. A larger vaccine rollout is expected for other high-risk groups in the coming months.

Officials say the vaccine, which provides 95% protection against symptomatic COVID-19 after just two doses, will be released in a three-phase approach in accordance with the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), prioritizing those who are most likely to be infected or adversely affected by the virus. 

After being released to healthcare healthcare providers, long-term care facilities and skilled nursing facilities in Phase 1a, the vaccine will be available to essential workers, including those in education, food and agriculture, utilities, law enforcement, and transportation. This second phase will be the most comprehensive and requires delicate and complicated planning, Guernsey says.

“It is going to require local planning and community input,” she says.

The third phase will be for adults with high-risk medical conditions and adults over the age of 65.

“The goal is to maximize the number of people choosing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in order to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in infection, hospitalization, and death and curb overall community spread,” says Guernsey.

Dr. Vines adds that there are no serious or adverse effects associated with taking the vaccine, with common reports of soreness, muscle aches, and fatigue ceasing after one to two days.

Announcement of the vaccine arrival comes as hundreds of community members continue to be hospitalized across the state during a surge in COVID-19 cases. BIPOC communities remain disproportionately affected by the virus.

“This is a really exciting moment but it is in no way, shape, or form, clearance to go back to normal,” Guernsey says. “We’re going to need layered prevention strategies for the months to come.”