Ag workers are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines on Monday

This 2014 photo shows an truck being loaded during harvest time at an onion packing shed in Nyssa.

MALHEUR COUNTY

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has moved ahead the vaccination prioritization timelines, and giving the green light for all Oregonians age 16 and older to be eligible for COVID-19 vaccination by May 1, according to a press conference on Friday.

Additionally, agriculture workers have been given the flexibility to begin getting vaccinated as of Monday.

“This is great news for Malheur County, whose economy relies heavily on the health and well-being of these valued and essential workers,” Malheur County Health Department Director Sarah Poe said in a news release. “We are ready to begin vaccinating this population and have been working with food processors and onion sheds to make plans for scheduling vaccines at worksites throughout the county.”

Speeding up eligibility, moving the county to a different size for risk assessment and changing county risk metrics to match the recently updated guidance from Oregon Department of Education, were among requests sent to the governor's office by Poe and Malheur County Judge Dan Joyce on Friday.

“We have plans to continue weekly vaccine clinics, to support additional health-care providers and pharmacies, and to start taking vaccine to locations where disproportionately affected populations live and work. This includes very rural communities, onion sheds, and organizations that serve people experiencing houselessness. This takes a great effort logistically, especially to not waste doses when vials are opened,” the letter states.

Also requested was the removal of the prison COVID-cases from the county’s overall population count when determining the county’s risk level, which currently is put at moderate.

Although the inmates do reside at Snake River Correctional Institution, in Ontario, the letter states that “they are not contributing to community spread.”

Removing those inmates from the county’s population would be more equitable when considering cases in the county, the letter indicates.

“The metrics seem to be divided by county size to be fair and in this unique situation, Malheur is unfairly considered a large county without the same risks and population outside of SRCI.”

In the meantime, Brown said those counties which can show they have largely finished vaccinations for Oregonians over 64 may start giving vaccinations to people 45 and older with underlying conditions and groups most vulnerable to the virus. Starting on April 19, all front-line workers and people with underlying conditions ages 16 to 44 will be able to get vaccinated. 

“The Oregon Health Authority tells me that, provided supplies come in from the federal government as anticipated, we expect to have enough doses for every Oregonians who wants a vaccine to have the opportunity for at least the first dose by the end of May,” Brown said at a new conference on Friday.  “That makes me smile. I hope It does for you to. The future’s looking brighter every day.”

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