The slow rollout of coronavirus vaccines has left health care leaders in the uncomfortable position of telling people at risk from the virus they will have to wait.

Chris Laman, the director of pharmacy and cancer center services at Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria, who is leading Clatsop County’s vaccine task force, said the most common questions come from seniors with underlying health conditions who want to know if they can get vaccinated.

Chris Laman

Chris Laman, the director of pharmacy and cancer center services at Columbia Memorial Hospital, is leading a county vaccine task force during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Unfortunately, the answer is just ‘no,’” he said. “As vaccines become more available, we’ll be able to move down the list and get to you.

“It’s not the task force’s job to identify who the next group is,” he said. “We’re going to use the (Oregon Health Authority) guidelines to guide how those decisions are made. It’s not the task force arbitrarily making decisions about who the next person is to get the shot.”

Nearly all of the vaccines in the county have been administered — 1,847 as of Friday — and the county Public Health Department, hospitals and other organizations charged with distribution are anxiously waiting for more doses.

Mixed messages from the federal and state governments on when new shipments will arrive — and who will be next in the priority line — have caused confusion and some resentment.

Mark Kujala, the chairman of the county Board of Commissioners, who works for the Columbia Memorial Hospital Foundation, said he is frustrated by the lack of communication.

He said the most important thing for people to know is that “once we receive vaccines we’ve got a framework in place to distribute them efficiently.”

The county, in partnership with Columbia Memorial and Providence Seaside Hospital, created the vaccine task force to manage the rollout locally.

The task force was formalized in January, with Laman in the lead role. He said more organizations have started to get involved, including Coastal Family Health Center, local pharmacies and the Columbia Pacific Coordinated Care Organization, which oversees the Oregon Health Plan in Clatsop, Columbia and Tillamook counties.

Laman said the hospitals and Coastal Family Health Center have given their doses to the Public Health Department “so that the task force can be in complete control of who’s getting vaccinated, where the events are happening and making sure that everything is coordinated and rolled out in a good manner.

“Our county is ahead of many counties in terms of the fact that we have a task force,” he said. “We have a way to register. We’ve got a way to follow up with people. We have the plans in place to be able to roll this out as soon as we get the vaccine.”

Vaccinations started with health care, emergency response, long-term care and other care home staff. The task force will use the remaining vaccines for the more than 400 people left on the priority list in the first phase, which includes in-home care services, dentist offices and group foster homes.

Some essential county staff, elected officials and social service agency staffers have also been vaccinated.

A county spokesman said some county commissioners were vaccinated because they make up the county’s governing body — an integral part of keeping the county functioning and directing services and programs. The spokesman said it was also a way to reassure the public that the vaccine is safe.

Columbia Memorial and Providence Seaside will receive some second doses this week for hospital staff.

As vaccines become available, the task force will notify the public on Wednesdays, with information about when and where the next vaccination event will take place, who is eligible and how to register.

The process will look the same when second doses become available.

The next phase includes about 1,200 teachers and other educators.

After a delay Gov. Kate Brown blamed on the Trump administration, seniors are expected to be placed into four tiers for vaccination: those over 80, those over 75, those over 70 and those over 65.

Nicole Bales is a reporter for The Astorian, covering police, courts and county government. Contact her at 971-704-1724 or nbales@dailyastorian.com.