UPDATE 7:05 p.m.: OHSU has announced it has canceled up to 4,500 vaccination appointments for seniors at its Portland International Airport site on Saturday and Sunday.
Forecasters say at least several inches of snow could fall in the Portland area Thursday through Saturday, prompting Oregon Health & Science University to cancel COVID-19 vaccination appointments this weekend for up to 4,500 seniors 80 and older who were lucky enough to book in the first days since becoming eligible.
OHSU said in an emailed statement shortly after 6:30 p.m. Wednesday that it is closing its Portland International Airport drive-through vaccination site Saturday and Sunday “for both patient and staff safety reasons.” Earlier in the day, OHSU had said it was still working out inclement weather plans.
The National Weather Service is predicting 5 to 14 inches of snow could dump on the region in the next few days.
Operators of the Portland area’s other mass vaccination site, at the Oregon Convention Center in Northeast Portland, said Wednesday they are closely watching forecasts but aren’t currently planning to postpone or cancel appointments. Rather, they plan to clear nearby sidewalks of snow and ice.
Late openings or early closures are a possibility for the site, where several hundred seniors are scheduled to make their way over the next few days.
“A total closure would only occur in the worst case,” reads a statement about the Convention Center site, with organizers encouraging “everyone who can safely make it to the Oregon Convention Center to try and do so.”
The cancellation of appointments at the airport is likely to come as both a disappointment for many seniors who have long been looking forward to their first shots and a relief because driving on the roads could become treacherous. It also represents a sizable obstacle in Oregon’s efforts to quickly vaccinate seniors, with administration of nearly one-quarter of this week’s 20,000 doses designed for older residents now delayed.
The Portland vaccination sites are being run through a cooperative effort by Kaiser Permanente, Legacy Health, Oregon Health & Science University and Providence Health & Services. Organizers said they’ll send out information about any additional cancellations to news media as well as post it to their website, All4Oregon.org. A hotline number in English and Spanish also will be set up, with plans to have it operational by Thursday.
Organizers said if people with appointments can’t make it because of the weather, they don’t need to cancel. Their place in line will be held and they will get to reschedule without having to once again compete for a very limited number of appointments with the masses. OHSU plans to reschedule seniors for next week, but didn’t specify days. More details will be forthcoming.
An estimated 168,000 seniors 80 and older became eligible for vaccinations Monday — with the first appointments in the Portland area starting in earnest Wednesday. Some seniors who booked those first appointments spent a few hours online or on hold with 211. Many more had no success, with all of the online appointments gone within about 2 1/2 hours. Many said they plan to try again on the next day appointments are opened.
Organizers announced Wednesday that new appointments in Portland for people 80 and older will be available for booking Thursday at 9 a.m. by visiting covidvaccine.oregon.gov, clicking on the blue rectangular box “Let’s get started” and answering questions through the chat tool. Those appointments are likely to be scheduled next week or beyond, and it’s not immediately clear what impact, if any, the weekend cancellations will have on the timeline.
Earlier this week, Bethany resident Rick Cummings booked a Saturday morning appointment for his 92-year-old mother. To do that, he said he got online Monday at 12:01 a.m., 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. before at 8 a.m. trying continuously for nearly an hour. The metro area booking portal started accepting appointments just before 9 a.m. and he snapped up one, he said.
By Wednesday, when the snow forecast had become clearer, he’d devised a plan to pick up his mother more than two hours before her appointment at the airport for a drive that in ideal conditions would take less than 30 minutes. He would use his four-wheel drive with studded snow tires and chains and bring an extra blanket, water and snacks.
He felt a sense of relief Wednesday night upon learning that OHSU had canceled all weekend appointments. But only as long as the vaccination site actually does reschedule his appointment. He is eagerly awaiting this test of the system.
Getting the vaccine is “life or death” for the oldest seniors, he said. It’s also a necessary step toward ending his mother’s isolation.
“She feels cooped up,” Cummings said, “and she can’t see her friends and she can’t go to book club or the library or play bridge.”
Seniors aren’t the only ones vying for vaccines.
Some health care providers, people living in congregate care and educators are still trying to get vaccinated two to eight weeks after their eligibility began. Over the next week, more than 6,800 doses had been slated for phase 1a recipients and 3,900 for educators in the Portland area. It’s unclear how the snowstorm will affect their vaccination appointments. Many are scheduled at the Convention Center.
A total of 20,000 doses across the state have been reserved for seniors 80 and older through next Tuesday, with 5,500 of those in the Portland area.
Next Monday, up to 133,000 more seniors ages 75 to 79 will be eligible to start booking appointments — meaning the competition for a small amount of vaccine will only intensify. State officials aren’t sure yet of the number of doses they expect to release to those elderly residents.
Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen estimates that at the current rate of vaccine shipments from the federal government it’ll be early May before there’s enough for 75% of the eligible Oregonians 65 and older to get access to the two doses needed for full inoculation.
— Aimee Green; email@example.com; @o_aimee
— to www.oregonlive.com