Governor Kate Brown's ill-considered order to give teachers the Covid vaccine before seniors is getting well-deserved media criticism. I'm no fan of this policy, having written my own critical blog post back on January 16, "Outrage: Oregon seniors to get Covid vaccine after teachers."
Here's news stories that came to my attention, along with an excerpt from each.
"Watchdog: Why Oregon senior citizens have one of longest waits in country for COVID-19 vaccinations," by Aimee Green
Seniors in Oregon will wait longer than almost anywhere else in the country to be eligible fo coronavirus vaccinations, a review by The Oregonian/OregonLive has found, undercutting claims that the federal government is to blame.
And that has shifted focus back to Gov. Kate Brown’s decision to prioritize teachers over the elderly.
...Yet when the prospect of extra vaccines fell apart, Brown said she had no choice but to make elderly Oregonians wait.
“I remain committed to vaccinating our seniors quickly,” Brown proclaimed Jan. 15. “But this failure by the Trump administration will unfortunately cause a two-week delay in beginning vaccinations for seniors.”
Not mentioned as part of Brown’s blame-shifting: 45 states dealing with the same vaccine limitations already have or within days will begin inoculating at least some of their oldest and most vulnerable residents based on age groups.
How? Decisions about who to vaccinate first are decided by governors and state health officials, and, among other things, Oregon is one of only two states to buck federal guidance by allowing teachers to go ahead of the elderly.
Salem Statesman Journal
"Anger, confusion grow over Oregon's COVID-19 vaccine rollout," by Tracy Loew
Oregon’s Vaccine Advisory Committee, charged with deciding who should get scarce COVID-19 vaccines first, is questioning its role after Gov. Kate Brown overrode its priorities last week.
The committee has received hundreds of comments from the public, much of which center on Brown’s recent decision to prioritize educators over older residents.
That decision came the day after the committee made its own recommendation, which focused on the state’s most vulnerable residents.
...Brown’s decision to prioritize educators, announced Jan. 15, is contrary to federal recommendations and differs from what most other states are doing.
It’s prompted a huge outcry from the public.
“You are effectively giving many of us our death sentence,” Charles Eggerstedt, an 81-year-old doctor in Clackamas, wrote the committee.
“The vaccine should be given to the most susceptible and in danger of dying from an infection,” wrote William Snow, of Dundee.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
"With limited doses, many question Oregon's plans to send teachers to the fromt of the vaccine line," by Erin Ross
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown wants as many schools as possible to resume in-person learning by Feb. 15 while the COVID-19 pandemic continues. To make that happen, she plans to vaccinate all of Oregon’s 100,000 or so school employees in the next few weeks — in the process putting them at the front of the line ahead of the elderly, people with pre-existing health conditions and other groups of non-medical frontline workers.
That decision has sparked controversy in Oregon. After other states seeking to prioritize teacher vaccinations reversed or altered those plans following public backlash, Oregon remains the sole holdout.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccinating older people, people with pre-existing health conditions, and people at a very high risk of exposure first. Brown’s decision directly contradicts those guidelines. Some critics argue that vaccinating teachers ahead of more vulnerable groups violates principles of medical ethics. Others — including teachers — say that vaccinating teachers is not enough by itself to open schools safely.
"Gov. Kate Brown Reversed Herself Twice Last Week on the Date Elderly Oregonians Could Get the Coronavirus Vaccine," by Rachel Monahan
On Jan. 15, Gov. Kate Brown took a parting shot at the outgoing Trump administration: She blamed a decision to move up COVID-19 vaccines for elderly Oregonians and then move them back again on the federal government's failure to deliver promised vaccine reserves.
Three days earlier, the governor had moved seniors to the front of the line for vaccines. When she learned more vaccines weren't coming, she changed the plan again: Older Oregonians would have to wait another three weeks.
...The reversal comes with high stakes attached, even as other states have already begun vaccinating seniors. People over 80 account for more than half of Oregon's deaths from COVID-19, and people over 60 account for 90% of the deaths.
As of now, Oregonians over 80 will be eligible for vaccines beginning Feb. 8—after medical workers, firefighters and school teachers get the shots. The state will then lower the age bracket each week until everyone over 65 is eligible.
It's Brown's last chance to blame Trump—and keep the public's faith in Oregon's choppy vaccine rollout.
Brown's double reversal shows the immense pressure the governor faces to return life to normal from COVID-19 as soon as possible. But it also exposes the holes in Brown's plan to get vaccines into the arms of Oregonians.
Her decisions on which groups get priority for vaccines are last minute, placing sudden demand on hospitals and threatening to undermine public patience in seemingly arbitrary choices.
Most notably, Brown is pressing to return students to school classrooms by Feb. 15—and assuaging the concerns of teachers unions about that plan by giving them early priority for vaccines.
That's an approach that few other states have tried.
"Oregon is in a fairly unique standing throughout the nation in saying that teachers would be part of the Phase 1 rollout," says Courtney Campbell, director of Oregon State University's Program for Ethics, Science, and the Environment.
Campbell said "health equity" has been a primary consideration for vaccine rollout both in Oregon and nationally—but teachers didn't seem to fit that standard. Instead, Brown and Oregon's vaccine advisory committee could include additional considerations, such as saving "the most lives" and "giving primacy to fairness and transparency" to justify the choice.
"If you're going to work only with health equity, then it seems to me it's hard to justify prioritizing K-12 personnel," says Campbell.
Today Gov. Brown held a press conference where she tried to defend her decision to vaccinate teachers before seniors, then took only three questions even though the Oregonian says that thirteen reporters had their hands virtually raised during what I assume was a Zoom call.
Here's some Twiter tweets about this.