Baker County is doing well, compared with Oregon’s 35 other counties, in vaccinating its residents against COVID-19.
But probably not as well as the state’s official records show.
According to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), as of Wednesday, March 24, a total of 8,408 Baker County residents — 50% of the total population of 16,800 — had been either partially or fully vaccinated.
That’s well above the percentage for any other county.
Union County, for instance, has partially or fully vaccinated about 21% of its residents, according to the OHA, while Malheur County is at 17% and Umatilla County at 15.8%.
Baker County’s vaccination rate per 10,000 residents is 4,999, by far the highest rate of any county.
Until this week, Baker County had ranked second behind Wheeler County, the least populous county with about 1,440 residents. Wheeler County’s vaccination rate, as of Wednesday, was 3,595 per 10,000.
Yet as gratifying as the numbers are, Baker County Commissioner Mark Bennett, the county’s incident commander throughout the pandemic, said he doesn’t believe as many county residents have been vaccinated as the state database, available on OHA’s website, shows.
“We aren’t there,” Bennett said on Tuesday. “We’re trying to sort it out. It’s intriguing.”
Which is not to say that Bennett isn’t pleased with the county’s progress.
The Baker County Health Department administered 717 doses of vaccine on March 12, and it will give the second shot to hundreds more this Friday at Baker High School. Because those residents are already counted as partially vaccinated on the OHA database, their second inoculation won’t increase the county’s total.
The health department has had large vaccination clinics at BHS every other Friday since early February.
But some of the numbers don’t add up.
For instance, according to the OHA database, a total of 1,101 people age 80 or older have been partially or fully vaccinated in Baker County.
Yet a spreadsheet that Bennett obtained from the state lists the number of residents in the county who are 80 and older at 1,028 — 51 fewer than the number of people shown as vaccinated.
Bennett said he doesn’t believe the county has vaccinated every one of its residents 80 and older.
Nor is the 80-and-older category the only one with such a discrepancy.
The OHA database shows that 984 residents ages 75 to 79 are partially or fully vaccinated. Yet the spreadsheet pegs the county’s population in that age range at 876.
For the age range 70 to 74, the vaccination total is 1,311, but the estimated population is 1,264.
The source of the differences is not apparent.
Timothy Heider of the OHA wrote in an email to the Herald that information on the agency’s website “is provided to us by the local public health authority. We report the figures provided by them.”
Bennett pointed out that the health department is not the only vaccine provider in the county.
Saint Alphonsus Medical Center-Baker City, St. Luke’s Clinic Eastern Oregon Medical Associates and the Pine Eagle Clinic in Halfway also administer vaccines.
So do the pharmacies at the Albertsons, Safeway and Bi-Mart stores in Baker City.
Baker County’s rising vaccination rate has been driven largely in the past week or so by doses of the Pfizer vaccine, according to OHA figures.
From March 15 to March 22, about 64% of the doses administered in the county — 2,049 of 3,199 — were Pfizer, according to the OHA database.
Overall, a total of 4,266 doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been give in Baker County. That’s considerably more than the number of Pfizer doses administered in nearby counties such as Union (325 doses), Umatilla (1,994) and Malheur (1,795).
The Baker County Health Department mainly uses the Moderna vaccine, along with some of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, because they don’t have to be stored at such a low temperature as the Pfizer vaccine, Bennett said.
Baker City Safeway and Albertsons stores have been administering only the Moderna vaccine at their pharmacies, Jill McGinnis, director of communications and public affairs for the company that owns both stores, wrote in an email to the Herald.
McGinnis wrote that the stores’ pharmacists have administered Pfizer doses at external clinics, in conjunction with the county, but she didn’t have any numbers or other details.
St. Luke’s Eastern Oregon Medical Associates is administering the Moderna vaccine only, Joy Prudek, public relations manager for St. Luke’s, wrote in an email to the Herald.
Bennett said the health department doesn’t require people at vaccination clinics to prove they live in Baker County, so people from outside the county could be inflating the numbers somewhat.