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Southern Oregon Hospitals Begin Coronavirus Vaccine Rollout

A worker at Providence Medford loads a shipment of the new COVID-19 vaccine into a freezer for storage.
Providence Medford
A worker at Providence Medford loads a shipment of the new COVID-19 vaccine into a freezer for storage.

The first doses of COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Southern Oregon Thursday. Health care workers in both the Asante and Providence hospital systems are expected to start getting vaccinated this week.

“We’re really hoping that everyone who wants the vaccine, we give them opportunity, and that we have a majority of our staff vaccinated by mid-February,” says Holly Nickerson the Director of Quality at Asante.

Nickerson says this first shipment of vaccine will cover less than 15% of Asante’s health care staff. For now, they’re prioritizing the highest-risk staff, like those caring for COVID patients, phlebotomists collecting nasal samples, EMS providers, and critical care doctors. Another shipment of 975 doses is expected to arrive next week.

Dr. Courtney Wilson, Vice President of Medical Affairs at Asante, says the arrival of the vaccine does not mean people should stop taking health precautions.

“We don’t necessarily expect the vaccine to flatten the curve much in the short term,” Wilson says. “And we’re very much still concerned about any potential ramifications of holiday gatherings.”

Providence Medical in Medford also received its first allotment of the vaccine Thursday. Providence plans to start vaccinating front-line staff Friday, as well.

Asante and Providence are among the first five health systems in Oregon to get an allocation of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.

Asante's Holly Nickerson says residents of long-term care facilities in Southern Oregon will also start getting the Pfizer vaccine soon in a simultaneous program run by pharmacies at Walgreens and CVS.

Maintaining adequate ICU bed space for COVID-19 patients has been an ongoing concern in Oregon, a state that, according to Dr. Wilson, has the fewest number of hospital beds per capita in the nation.

“If we see a significant surge after the holidays, it’s not unreasonable to say that we may run out of resources,” Wilson says. “If things stay the way they are then we’ll be just fine.”

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.