‘Putting everybody in line behind educators not safest thing’

Coronavirus

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has opted to vaccinate educators before older adults in light of vaccine shortages

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Teachers and adults 65 and older were supposed to be next in line to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Oregon. But that was before state leaders learned there isn’t a federal stockpile of doses.

Early Friday Brown announced that Oregon will not be receiving an increase in vaccine shipments next week. Operation Warp Speed’s General Perna confirmed to her that states will not be receiving increased shipments of COVID-19 vaccine doses from the federal stockpile as previously expected.

She said this is because there is no federal reserve of doses. Brown demanded answers from the Trump administration, calling this a “deception on the national scale.”

Oregon has quickly pivoted its vaccination plans. Despite news of the shortage, Brown said they will start vaccinating educators and school staff as early as Jan. 25. Older adults will have to wait.

“It is critically important that we work hard to get our students back into the classroom,” said Brown. “Children of all ages but particularly are little ones are really struggling with comprehensive distance learning.”

Elizabeth Thiel, the president of the Portland Association of Teachers, said Brown’s decision to put educators ahead of older adults is risky.

“It was shocking today to hear that that order had changed to prioritize opening schools above the health of the elderly,” Thiel said. “Putting everybody in line behind educators is not the safest thing for our community to do.”

Thiel believes Oregon should wait to reopen schools until high-risk community members can be protected against the virus. She’s concerned that reopening schools too early could mean educators would expose their families to the virus and contribute to spreading it among their communities.

“Schools are safe when the community is safe,” she said. “Currently, if we’re able to continue in distance learning those who are most impacted by COVID could get vaccinated first.”

Distance learning can continue, Thiel said, for however long it takes for BIPOC communities and the elderly to receive the vaccine.

“It’s not ideal by any means but we can do it, we’ve been building the systems and we need to get out of this safe,” she said. “Students can recover from some lost instructional time; I don’t know how you recover from the death of a loved one that was preventable.”

Brown has moved adults 65 and older further down the line. Oregon’s most vulnerable population, those 80 years and older, will begin vaccinations on February 8. The new plan will vaccinate seniors in 4 waves: 80 years and older, 75 and older, 70 and older and 65 and older. The waves will continue each week following Feb. 8 as doses permit.

In a letter sent to Brown earlier this week, Oregon’s AARP chapter urged the governor to prioritize older adults in vaccine distribution, saying nearly 95% of COVID deaths have been among people 50 and older.

“We appreciate educators and I know they understand how important it is for our older adults in Oregon to be vaccinated,” said Joyce DeMonnin with AARP Oregon.

DeMonnin said the vaccine will do more than just protect older adults: it will help give them their lives back.

“People are living alone and they’re very isolated and we know from a lot of research that social isolation is a huge problem for older adults,” she said.

Continuing Coverage: Coronavirus

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