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First COVID-19 vaccinations begin in Oregon

By GILLIAN FLACCUS
Of The Associated Press

PORTLAND — Oregon hospitals administered the first coronavirus vaccines in the state Wednesday to nurses, respiratory therapists, housekeeping workers and other health care employees in high-risk jobs, marking the beginning of a broad vaccination campaign in a state that's seen more than 1,200 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began.

Those vaccinated during the coordinated event — streamed live over the internet — were from Legacy Health System and Oregon Health & Science University in Portland and Saint Alphonsus Medical Center on the Oregon-Idaho border. Vaccine shipments to other hospitals, including Salem Hospital, will continue to arrive this week.

The Oregon Health Authority has said it will receive 35,100 initial doses of the Pfizer vaccine that has been approved by federal and Western state authorities. Another vaccine made by Moderna is expected to receive federal approval soon and Oregon officials estimate there will enough of the two vaccines to initially inoculate about 100,000 people statewide.

On Wednesday, the vaccinations kicked off at Legacy Health in Portland with five health care workers, including an emergency room nurse, an intensive care unit nurse, a respiratory therapist, the head of housekeeping services and a radiologist.

After a countdown, the recipients’ colleagues burst into cheers and applause as the needles pierced their arms. Some gave high fives.

“I’m taking this vaccine for my family as well as for my community,” said Myra Gomez, an ICU nurse. "I want to lead by example.”

At OHSU, the first COVID vaccine was administered to an ICU nurse by a dental resident under a new Oregon law that allows dentists and dental students to administer shots.

And far to the east, along the Oregon-Idaho border, the chief of nursing at Saint Alphonsus Hospital in Ontario, Oregon, rolled up her sleeve for one of the initial vaccines at her facility.

Dina Ellwanger, who is also the hospital's president, said after receiving the shot, she would return to a COVID-19 vaccination clinic the hospital had set up to allow nurses and other health care workers to get their shots without missing too much work. The vaccine comes at a critical time for rural communities like Ontario, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus.

“Our spread has been very high. We border Idaho where safety measures have not been as strict,” she said, adding that 20 people at the hospital had already been vaccinated by 11 a.m.

On Tuesday, Oregon announced a record high of 54 coronavirus deaths, bringing the state’s death toll to 1,214 people.

State health officials also recorded 1,129 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total to 96,092.

A surge of cases in November contributed to the high number of deaths reported Tuesday because of delays tallying death certificates in some cases, state health officials said.

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