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A COVID-19 particle is pictured in this image provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC/CONTRIBUTED PHOTO]

The Baker County Health Department has hundreds more doses of COVID-19 vaccine than it has residents interested in being inoculated.

“The level of interest has certainly decreased this past week,” Nancy Staten, the department’s director, said on Friday morning, April 30.

Less than a month ago the health department was scheduling bi-weekly clinics at Baker High School where more than 600 people received either their first or second dose of the Moderna vaccine.

But as of Friday, the department didn’t have a single person on a waiting list for a vaccination, Staten said.

Residents continue to call occasionally asking about vaccines, and Staten said the department is making appointments for people as soon as possible, usually within a few days.

The challenge, she said, is scheduling vaccinations to ensure that the department doesn’t waste any doses.

The Moderna vaccine comes in vials that hold 10 doses, all of which have to be used within six hours. Staten said health department officials are trying to make sure enough people will be ready to be vaccinated once the vial is opened.

The declining trend in demand for vaccinations was clear on Saturday, April 24, when the county had a free, drive-thru clinic at the Fairgrounds. Although the county had more than 1,100 doses available, just 62 people — three of whom don’t live in Oregon — showed up.

The trend prompted the health department to tell state officials that Baker County, for the time being, doesn’t need more vaccine doses, Staten said.

For the seven-day period April 22-28, a total of 347 vaccine doses were given in Baker County, according to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA).

That’s down from 516 doses during the previous seven-day period, April 15-21.

As of Monday, April 26, the health department had 1,100 first doses and 800 second doses of Moderna vaccine, along with about 350 doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Staten said.

Pharmacies at the Safeway, Albertsons, Bi-Mart and Rite Aid stores in Baker City also are administering vaccines.

Staten said a small number of people who have called the health department regarding vaccines — the phone number is 541-523-8211 — have specifically asked to have the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose.

She said the department has sufficient doses to meet that demand.

The number of county residents being vaccinated has dropped as the percentage of older people, who were eligible earlier, has increased.

As of Thursday, April 29, about 65% of the approximately 3,170 Baker County residents age 70 or older have been fully or partially vaccinated.

Overall, 33% of the county’s 16,800 residents have been fully vaccinated (4,463, or 26.6%) or partially vaccinated (1,123, or 6.7%).

Staten pointed out that it’s far easier today to get vaccinated than it was a month ago, given the abundance of doses and because everyone 16 and older is eligible.

Only the Pfizer vaccine — which like the Moderna vaccine requires two doses — is approved for 16- and 17-year-olds.

Staten said the health department will have a vaccination clinic next week at the health clinic at Baker High School for students ages 16 or 17. The department has 33 Pfizer doses available, and as of Friday morning about two-thirds of the doses had been spoken for, she said.

(Using the Pfizer vaccine is more complicated because it has to be stored at ultralow temperatures, and the health department lacks the proper freezers, Staten said. The department obtains Pfizer doses from Grande Ronde Hospital in La Grande.)

Baker County case counts

Staten said she’s “cautiously optimistic” about the spread of COVID-19 in the county over the past week.

For the seven-day period April 23-29, the county had 24 new cases, compared with 42 new cases for the previous seven-day period, April 16-22, and 57 cases from April 9-15.

“It appears that our case count is down, and I’m hopeful that it will stay low,” Staten said.

Despite the trend, Gov. Kate Brown moved 15 of Oregon’s 36 counties, including Baker, to the extreme risk level starting Friday, April 30. Those counties will remain at that level, which prohibits indoor dining at restaurants and bars and severely restricts capacity at some other businesses, through at least May 6.

The governor said the OHA will review the COVID-19 situation in counties weekly rather than every two weeks, as has been the case since December.

Counties could potentially drop out of extreme risk starting May 7, but Staten said that as of Friday the OHA had not given the county details about what thresholds the county would need to meet to qualify to move out of extreme risk.

All counties could drop out of extreme risk if the statewide number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals drops below 300. As of Friday, April 30, there were 334 people hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19, according to OHA.

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