May 11, 2021

Multnomah County statement on Gov. Brown's COVID-19 vaccine targets

Gov. Kate Brown today announced a dramatic shift in the state’s direction on COVID-19, away from a reopening plan based on a county’s level of COVID-19 spread—a plan that placed Multnomah County in extreme risk just 10 days ago—and toward a statewide target of vaccinating 70 percent of the adult population to reopen the state.

The new plan allows individual counties to move even faster. A county that reaches 65 percent of people 16 and older with a first dose and submits a plan to Oregon Health Authority for how it will increase vaccination rates among communities of color would have the option to move into the “Lower Risk” category as soon as May 21.

Multnomah County leadership learned about this new reopening strategy just a few hours before it was announced. With about 63 percent of eligible residents now vaccinated,  Multnomah County is pivoting to understand the implications for our community. In the coming days we will work with hospital systems to review data and recommendations and partner with community organizations and leaders who have helped shape the equity approach to our broader COVID-19 response.

Fortunately, since the beginning of the pandemic, the County has had a robust strategy to reach people who experience both higher rates of disease and hospitalization and higher barriers to vaccines.

With the very small amount of vaccine allocated to the County’s Public Health Division, county staff have partnered with community organizations to focus vaccination efforts on those communities who are at greatest risk of COVID-19 due to frontline work, multi-generational households and limited access to health care and vaccines because of language or other barriers.

County Public Health have held vaccination clinics for community health workers, medical interpreters and traditional health workers who are most likely to work directly with Black, Indigenous, people of color and immigrant community members at high risk and identify as members of their communities. The division partners in community vaccination clinics with culturally-specific community organizations to reach Black and African-American, Pacific Islander, Native, African Immigrant, Latinx, Muslim, Asian and other BIPOC communities. Multnomah County’s Federally Qualified Health Center also holds vaccine clinics at sites across the County for patients who are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19—specifically reaching out to qualifying BIPOC patients. 

Public Health has held more than 100 community events, reaching more than 20,000 people; about 80 percent of whom identify as people of color. Multnomah County’s Health Center has reached about 7,000 patients, about 70 percent of whom identify as people of color and nearly half of whom were served through an interpreter.

But, as the most populous county in the state,with the most hospitalizations and deaths, any vaccine equity plan requires our system partners — hospitals and  healthcare partners — to join us in reaching any target. While mass vaccine sites scooped up the “vaccine enthusiastic,” it will take a more coordinated effort to reach the remainder.

“Our community is going to have to work for every vaccine going forward and we need to understand exactly what barriers people are facing to getting their shot,’’ said Dr. Jennifer Vines, Multnomah County Health Officer. “We need some time to look at our data carefully to inform our next steps and bring in our partners to help.

“But we’re also hopeful because this rapid course change shows the power of the vaccines and just how quickly we can protect one another if we do this right.’’