Anger mounts over Brown’s newest timeline for vaccinating Oregon teachers, seniors


Gov. Kate Brown’s goal of returning thousands of Oregon students to classrooms this school year is drawing ire from seniors and teachers waiting on their vaccines.

In December, Brown hoped to reopen Oregon classrooms by Feb. 15. That timeline was set well before a fiasco with federal authorities last week that left Oregon scrambling to revise its vaccine rollout.

Oregon's self-imposed deadline for resuming in-person classes is now uncertain following Brown's decision to vaccinate Oregon educators before seniors as part of the state's Phase 1b of vaccinations.

Oregon educators were originally slated for priority vaccinations the same day as seniors 65 and older: Jan. 23.

Vaccinations for teachers, firefighters and school staff are now planned to begin on Jan. 25.

Seniors ages 80 and up can expect theirs by Feb. 8 while seniors ages 75, 70, and 65 will be eligible starting Feb. 14 through Feb. 28.

By Jan. 25, health officials expect 67% of those in Oregon's ongoing Phase 1a will have received their first of two vaccine doses. They include health care workers, people in long-term care facilities, and people in correctional facilities.

The OHA anticipates up to 78% of Oregon seniors and educators could receive a first dose by the second week of May.

But hundreds of seniors who wrote to Oregon's COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee (VAC) on Tuesday worried Brown's decision to move them farther behind in line could kill them.

“You are effectively giving many of us our death sentence,” wrote Charles Eggerstedt, an 81-year-old doctor in Clackamas.

According to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), Oregon seniors 80 and older make up 28.8% of all deaths from COVID-19 while those ages 70 to 79 make up about 22%.

Brown's plan seemed to rub members of the VAC committee the wrong way too.

“It just really led me to kind of wonder and question what this committee’s role is, when we’re not really in the loop on these decisions that are being made outside of what we’re being told is our task,” said VAC committee member Kristin Milligan. “The process continues to go on without us while we have all these deep conversations about equity and diversity and inclusion.”

Brown defended her decision on Friday, saying that vaccinating Oregon's more than 100,000 education workers would likely be faster than vaccinating some 500,000 Oregon seniors.

“The harsh reality is we are managing a scarce resource right now,” Brown said. “Time and time again this pandemic has forced difficult choices.”

The governor also cited the need to reunite students with school resources such as counseling on top of closing potential learning gaps brought on by adapting to online classes.

Brown pointed to a recent study by consulting firm McKinsey and Company, which evaluated the “high cost” of learning loss among school-aged children.

Data released by the Oregon Department of Education shows 83% of Oregon high schoolers graduated in 2020 despite learning online for much of last March during the state's first pandemic-induced shutdown.

At face value, the news marks Oregon high schools' fourth straight year of gains, but some fear the state's substitution of letter grades with pass/fail grades last March lowered academic standards.

Oregon teachers have made it clear to Brown in past days they want as many educators vaccinated as possible before in-person classes begin. Roseburg Public Schools will be the first to reopen its doors to all grades starting Jan. 25.

Oregon Association of Hospitals & Health Systems' president and CEO, Becky Hultberg, said on Friday that Brown's decision to rapidly expand vaccinations could flood facilities with “stress and potential chaos.”

Her comments were rebuffed by Charles Boyle, a spokesperson with Brown's office, who said the governor's timeline will be fulfilled in an orderly fashion.

Data from the New York Times placed Oregon's case rate per 100,000 people at 47th in the nation and its death toll per 100,000 people at 43rd in the nation.

On Friday, the OHA reported 877 new cases and 22 new deaths from COVID-19, bridging Oregon's case total to 136,839 and its death toll to 1,865.

The CDC's COVID Data Tracker on Friday showed the state of 4.2 million people had administered 52% of the 487,700 doses it has received to date.

A total of 34,536 people in Oregon have received both doses while another 218,413 people have received at least their first dose.

Who will be included in Oregon's Phase 1c is still undetermined, but everyone from Uber to the Greater Oregon Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists are lobbying Brown to add them in the upcoming round of vaccines.

The Oregon COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee will livestream its next meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 26.

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