AROUND OREGON: With fewer Covid vaccines coming from feds, seniors now behind teachers in Oregon’s inoculation line

Gov. Kate Brown in her Portland office (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Teachers in Oregon will be able to get a Covid vaccine starting Jan. 25, but seniors will have to wait at least three weeks after expected additional vaccine doses from the federal government failed to materialize.

Gov. Kate Brown announced the changes in a news conference Friday, reversing course from a plan earlier this week that called for educators and Oregonians 65 and older to begin receiving vaccines next week.

That plan was based on the expectation that states would be receiving extra vaccines the federal government had been holding in reserve. But Brown said she learned Thursday night that the reserve did not actually exist, forcing the state to delay rollout.

She blamed the Trump administration for the rollback.

“Their empty promises are literally playing with people’s lives. So may Oregon seniors have spent the past year separated from their children and their grandchildren,” Brown said during a news conference Friday.

Oregonians 80 and older will now be eligible for vaccination starting Feb. 8, Brown said. The state will then roll out vaccines to Oregonians 75 and older, then 70 and older, then those over 65, though she did not give expected dates for those groups.

“Oregon had a 12-week plan to vaccinate seniors and educators, but our plan was entirely contingent on receiving the doses of COVID-19 the federal government had promised states,” said Pat Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, during the news conference.

Brown’s plan now puts teachers and other school employees ahead of elderly Oregonians, a prioritization decision few other states have made.

Teachers are now eligible to be vaccinated in 12 states, according to an analysis of state plans by Education Week, but most of those states are also vaccinating seniors at the same time. Some have prioritized vaccines for teachers over a certain age or with underlying health conditions that increase their risk of contracting Covid.

Seniors, particularly those over 80, account for by far the largest share of Covid deaths in Oregon and nationwide. In Oregon, 926 people over 80 have died with Covid – 52% of all state deaths.

Brown denied that her decision was the result of pressure from teacher unions, which have pushed for vaccines to be available to educators before Oregon schools reopen. The Oregon Education Association was one of the top contributors to Brown’s 2018 re-election campaign, giving $190,000, the Oregonian reported.

Instead, Brown said her decision was based on consultation with state health officials about the safest way to resume school, and the knowledge that many of Oregon’s students are struggling academically and socially with learning online.

“I know families where 12 and 13-year-olds are attempting suicide,” Brown said. “We know that our schools are a place of social interaction. They’re a place where young people, students can get their behavioral health and emotional supports met, and they’re also a place where our kids can get educated, and our students are struggling.”

Other school employees would also be eligible for vaccination starting Jan. 25, including bus drivers, janitors and classroom aides.

Trent Greene, chief operating officer of Legacy Health, said logistically it’s easier for hospitals to vaccinate educators as a group because they’re easy to organize through their employers. He said Oregon hospitals would vaccinate in whatever order the state tells them, but estimated all Portland-area educators could be vaccinated in a single weekend if hospitals have enough vaccine doses.

The Oregon Health Authority now has a page on its website with vaccine clinic information by county, as well as an interactive tool where Oregonians can see if they’re currently eligible to be vaccinated.

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