File photo: Chas Hundley

Starting Thursday, May 13 everyone in Oregon ages 12 and up is eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine.

“The Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, after a thorough review of the evidence from the clinical trial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for those 12-15 years of age, concludes the vaccine is safe and effective in this age group and supports its use,” a statement from the group, made up of medical professionals in four states, read.

The vaccine was first approved for emergency use for those ages 12 - 15 on Monday by the Food and Drug Administration. The next step was for a CDC advisory panel to recommend the vaccine — previously only available to the ages 16 and older — for use for those 12 to 15 years of age, which happened Wednesday just after 12 p.m. Finally, for Oregon, Washington, California and Nevada, members of the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, that final layer of review was the last step.

“Expanding COVID-19 vaccination to anyone 12 years of age and above will both protect those who are vaccinated and contribute to control of the COVID-19 pandemic in our states,” the group said in their report to the governors of each member state. 

According to a press release from Oregon Governor Kate Brown, the Oregon Health Authority is currently informing healthcare providers that they can begin administering the vaccine to those as young as 12 years of age beginning Thursday. 

“This is great news for Oregon children, parents, and families,” Brown said in a statement. “Vaccination is the best tool we have to protect ourselves and our loved ones. With today’s review by leading doctors, pediatricians, and health experts, young Oregonians and parents can be confident in the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for youth. It is completely normal for parents and kids to have questions about vaccines––I urge you to reach out to your family doctor or pharmacist and get your questions answered today.”

The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines remain approved only for those age 18 and older. 

On Tuesday May 11, Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced that much of the state’s restrictions on gatherings, people in food establishments and gyms, and other restrictions in place to stem the spread of COVID-19 would be lifted when 70% of those ages 16 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

The governor also announced that counties that reach a 65% first-dose vaccine threshold for the same age group and submit a plan to the state “close equity gaps in vaccination,” will be able to apply to move to the Lower Risk level beginning on May 21 on a weekly basis, according to a press release from Brown’s office. 

Washington County is currently at the “High Risk” level, which restricts capacity at restaurants, gyms, stores, and other businesses.

As of May 10, the most recently available data from the Oregon Health Authority, 61.1% of Washington County residents ages 16 and older have received at least one dose. Statewide, 56.6% of that age range has received at least one dose. 

The new age ranges approved for the vaccine will not change the targets the state is trying to meet, according to Jonathan Modie, a spokesperson for the Oregon Health Authority in an email to this newspaper. 

To qualify for dropping two levels from “High Risk” to “Lower Risk,” 19,867 Washington County residents would have to get a vaccine this week, according to Washington County. 

“Of course, we are aiming for much higher than 65%, but it's a start,” the county said in a social media post Wednesday morning. 

More information about finding a vaccine in Washington County is available at the Washington County Health and Human Services website or by dialing 211. 

Portland’s Oregon Convention Center (777 NE Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard), retrofitted into a streamlined vaccine facility, is offering walk-in vaccines in May, but will cease offering first doses after May, allowing only second doses to recipients in June, and closing later that same month. More information for the Oregon Convention Center vaccine can be found at all4oregon.org.