PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon Governor Kate Brown defended her choice to vaccinate school staff and educators before seniors, saying it was a difficult choice.
“Time and time again, this pandemic has forced difficult choices,” she said during a Friday press conference. “School is so much more than a place kids go to learn.”
The difficult choice was compounded by the criticism that Oregon is falling behind in their vaccination rates – a detail that health officials dispute.
Oregon Health Authority’s Rachael Banks said Friday that the pace of Oregon’s rollout is either ahead of or on pace with other states. She said they are layering more people in line for the same number of doses, causing confusion.
Brown brought in teachers and students to her virtual news conference to help support her decision that, despite COVID killing seniors at a higher rate than any other group, they will have to wait. No seniors were at the press conference.
“If we were to vaccinate every Oregon senior first, the unfortunate and harsh reality is that many of our educators would not be vaccinated this school year and our kids would continue to suffer,” Brown said.
There are about 700,000 seniors in Oregon. The group of teachers, staff and daycares is about 150,000. The governor said she has “prioritized protecting seniors” since the pandemic began, but kids need to be back in the classroom.
Watch the full press conference
KOIN 6 News has not found any other state that is putting teachers and staff ahead of seniors.
“The harsh reality is that we are managing a scarce resource right now,” Brown said. She said there is value in bringing kids back to the classroom and having seniors wait a few more weeks to get vaccines.
Teachers are supposed to start getting vaccines on Monday. Seniors over 80 would start getting in line 2 weeks later, with those over 65 not in line until March 7.
“For every teacher who is back in the classroom, they help 20, 30, 35 kids get their life back on track,” she said.
Oregon’s vaccine timeline
The Oregon Health Authority revealed a new timeline for the rollout. The timeline depends on the number of doses received.
Hundreds of people are now getting vaccinated at the Oregon Convention Center. They will run the clinic for as long as it is needed.
Washington state has already moved on to its second phase of the vaccine rollout and other states across the country are now vaccinating essential workers, people with chronic conditions and seniors. Oregon has vaccinated two-thirds of those in the Phase 1A group.
By Friday, Washington had administered 82,000 more vaccine doses than Oregon.
But the Oregon Health Authority said Oregon’s rollout is no different than other states. Oregon has administered half of the vaccine doses it’s received so far, which means the state ranks 19th in the nation for the percentage of vaccines administered and 20th in the nation for the percentage of the population given at least one dose.
“If you think about our vaccinations efforts as a marathon, Oregon’s vaccination program is roughly at the equivalent of the first mile,” said Banks. “Over a handful of weeks we’ve passed most states in the pace of our rollout but we think it’s misleading to judge any state effort at this stage and every state is grappling with the same fundamental problem: a shortage of the vaccines.”
Washington also launched an enhanced version of its Phase Finder website on Monday. The site lets people check their eligibility to get a vaccine and sign up for an alert if they’re not yet eligible.
OHA has said they’re also working on a website but has not provided details about what it will look like or when it will be launched.