Why at least 45 states will vaccinate seniors against COVID-19 before Oregon
Watchdog: Why Oregon senior citizens have one of longest waits in country for COVID-19 vaccinations Updated Jan 22, 3:54 PM; Posted Jan 22, 5:00 AM Gov. Kate Brown has made Oregon one of only two states in the nation to give the green light for school employees to receive COVID-19 vaccinations but not seniors. The other state is Idaho. Cathy Cheney/Portland Business Journal pool Facebook Share By Aimee Green | The Oregonian/OregonLive Seniors in Oregon will wait longer than almost anywhere else in the country to be eligible for 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. Brown had already decided to vaccinate educators before seniors in an attempt to reopen K-12 schools. But she briefly reversed course last week based on expectations more vaccines would be provided by the federal government, announcing that seniors 65 and older would join day care, preschool and K-12 employees as being eligible for vaccines Jan. 23. 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. As a result of Brown’s priorities, vaccinations for school employees will begin en masse Monday. Oregonians who are 80 and older won’t be eligible for vaccines until Feb. 8. It could be March before all seniors 65 and up are eligible, with state officials now not committing to precise start dates . That timeline lags more than two months behind some other states such as Texas and Florida. It’s six full weeks behind Washington , which made all seniors ages 65 and older eligible Jan. 18 as teachers must wait until “late winter or early spring.” Brown’s decision has spawned harsh criticism and deep praise, with some condemning her for keeping the vaccine from the age group most susceptible to severe or deadly COVID-19 infections, while others commend her for taking steps to get young students back in classrooms. But there’s no guarantee vaccinating teachers sooner will actually lead to a significant return to in-person learning this school year – and in fact many counties do not meet new advisory criteria set by Brown for school reopenings. Final decisions will be made by school districts and teachers’ unions. A spokesman for the governor’s office didn’t directly address how Oregon has been unable to vaccinate seniors as quickly as 45 other states but defended Brown’s actions, saying it is “absolutely critical” to return children to the classroom. “Last week’s revisions to Oregon’s schedule for vaccinating educators and seniors does not reflect valuing one group of Oregonians over the other — it is simply a case of having far less vaccine supplies than the federal government instructed us to prepare for a week ago,” spokesman Charles Boyle said in an email responding to written questions. Oregon has a higher share of seniors than most states, with 767,500 out of 4.2 million people – or 18.2%. Only 10 states have an equal or larger share of residents 65 and up, and all prioritized vaccines for seniors far more aggressively, including Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Hawaii and West Virginia. Many rollouts have not been smooth, with some seniors in Florida and other states waiting hours in line to receive a shot as demand far exceeds supply. Christine Sheridan, a 73-year-old Sherwood resident, said it has been infuriating to watch Oregon’s governor pedal back and forth. A retired nurse, Sheridan has thought of trying to file a class-action lawsuit against Brown for not following recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prioritize Americans 65 and older. Sheridan read about a lawsuit filed in Nevada by a 70-year-old woman and 74-year-old man earlier this month and, how hours later, Gov. Steve Sisolak lowered the age of people immediately eligible for vaccinations from 75 to 70. “I’m very, very angry,” Sheridan said of Brown’s decision to delay vaccinations for the elderly. “It is totally just a slap in the face. To me, it’s not reasonable.” *** Many schools unlikely to reopen Critics question the logic of vaccinating school bus drivers, cooks, teachers, classroom aides and others if many schools won’t reopen any time soon given stubbornly high infection rates in many parts of Oregon. According to the governor’s latest guidance for reopening classrooms, elementary schools in the Portland area do currently qualify for reopening. But the infection counts in the area over the past two weeks are precariously close to exceeding that threshold as the highly contagious U.K. variant of the virus begins to spread in Oregon and across the U.S. What’s more, coronavirus case rates are too high for elementary schools to safely reopen in Bend, Medford, Salem, Klamath Falls and all of eastern Oregon, according to the governor’s metrics. Middle schools and high schools in 35 of Oregon’s 36 counties shouldn’t restart — and that includes all the districts in the Portland area, according to the governor’s guidance. Boyle, the governor’s spokesman, didn’t dispute that many schools might not open any time soon based on current advisory metrics. But he suggested vaccinating teachers may prompt more Oregonians to double-down on social distancing efforts to slow spread and enable schools to reopen. “Our goal is to put school districts on track to return more students to classrooms as quickly as possible, with a focus on our youngest learners, by February 15,” Boyle said in an email. “Oregon’s advisory school metrics — particularly the revised metrics for a return to elementary in-person instruction –– are attainable if communities work to drive down the spread of COVID-19 over the next three weeks.” Across the nation, whether K-12 schools offer in-person learning has largely been left up to local districts or governments — and vaccines haven’t always factored into the equation. According to a CNN analysis last month, four states had ordered their classrooms to stay open. Already some districts in Washington are reopening for students two days a week, including Evergreen Public Schools in Vancouver, where kindergarteners and first graders began classes Tuesday. Second and third graders are set to return next week. Oregon’s governor has indicated that vaccinating teachers is the best path to safely reopen. “For so many of Oregon’s students, their educational, social-emotional well-being, and mental health – and, in too many cases, their safety from abuse and neglect – depends on their in-person connections to school,” Boyle said. Dozens of parents and students rallied at Revolution Hall in Southeast Portland on Dec. 6, pushing for Gov. Kate Brown to order the state’s public schools to offer in-person education for families and educators who feel safe returning to classrooms amid the coronavirus. Brown is taking a calculated gamble to dedicate vaccines for a relatively small slice of the population — some 105,000 teachers and staff in day cares, preschools and K-12 school districts. The payoff Brown sees is clear: Fast and orderly vaccinations of educators could be accomplished in only a few weeks, state officials estimate, removing at least one of the barriers to open classrooms that have been shuttered for 10 months. Waiting until after seniors are eligible could delay the prospect of in-person learning by a few months. But Courtney Campbell, a professor of religion and culture at Oregon State University, believes there isn’t “an ethically justified defense” for prioritizing daycare, preschool and K-12 employees over seniors. In determining who to vaccinate first, the state has confused the intended “medical and public health” purpose of the vaccine — to end the pandemic — with advancing the social goal of returning school children to classrooms, he said. “It would seem to be an irresponsible use of a scarce resource to appropriate a vaccine developed for the medical purpose of fighting a pandemic for a non-medical social objective, such as opening schools, especially when …(that) may mean others are placed at a higher risk of dying,” Campbell said in an email to The Oregonian/OregonLive. Although Oregon more than a month ago opened vaccinations to healthcare workers and residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities because residents account for about half of all deaths, seniors living out on their own in the community who are part of neither group are still waiting for their turn. People age 65 and older account for about 84% of COVID-19 deaths in Oregon even though they make up 18.2% of the population. Each day vaccine access is delayed to that age group limits the ability to save lives. *** Oregon’s prioritized veterinarians and police, too Difficult decisions are being made in states across the country about who to vaccinate with limited doses. The federal government says it’s shipping out doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines based on adult population, so every state should receive roughly equal allotments per capita. Oregon officials expect to receive only about 1.1 million doses through the end of February, which isn’t even enough to vaccinate one-sixth of all adult residents. But Oregon’s prospects of quickly vaccinating seniors is also saddled in part by what appears to be an abnormally large group that the governor has made eligible for inoculations for the past month. Before the first vaccines were shipped to states in December, the CDC recommended all vaccinate their healthcare workers — because keeping them healthy and on the job is essential to preserving lives. The CDC also recommended immunizing long-term care facility residents because their populations have been disproportionately ravaged by the virus. This entire group is known as Phase 1a. Oregon’s governor followed that advice, agreeing to include an estimated 360,000 Oregonians in healthcare and long-term care facilities in the initial vaccine rollout. Brown and officials with the Oregon Health Authority, however, have faced criticism for allowing a portion of the people who work in the healthcare industry and have been able to work from home — including some administrators, accountants, data analysts, IT technicians and marketing employees — to get vaccinated as part of this group. On top of that, Brown also decided to prioritize an additional 140,000 Oregonians as part of Phase 1a — and among them are employees of veterinary clinics that treat pets or livestock, anyone who enters a jail or prison for work including correctional officers and criminal defense attorneys, police, firefighters and people who live or work in group homes for the developmentally disabled. Although a CDC advisory committee said many of these people were essential workers and crucial to society’s functions, the committee also said they should be prioritized in the next wave of vaccinations known as Phase 1b . That’s the same phase the committee placed teachers and other school educators. The committee also initially placed elderly Americans in this phase, before CDC leaders moved them up the line this month because of their higher risk of death. Oregon’s massive Phase 1a group — 500,000 people — accounts for about 12% of its residents. That’s a far larger group than its neighbors: Washington and Nevada each included about 6% of their populations in their first wave of inoculations. California and Idaho included about 8%. The extra 140,000 Oregonians that the state has obligated itself to vaccinate now means a longer wait for future groups — first and foremost, seniors. Boyle, the governor’s office spokesman, said strictly following the CDC advisory committee’s recommendations for Phase 1a “would have left many vulnerable Oregonians without access to vaccines.” Boyle said even if the governor hadn’t made this group of 140,000 eligible for vaccinations in the first wave, it wouldn’t have saved enough vaccine for all of Oregon’s elderly. “There are over 700,000 seniors living in Oregon — had Gov. Brown left Oregon first responders or Oregonians with developmental disabilities vulnerable to COVID-19, there still would not be enough doses for Oregon’s seniors,” Boyle wrote. The doses that would not have been earmarked, however, comes close to enough to immunize every Oregonian who’s 80 and older. There are about 167,000 of them. Meanwhile, Brown has dug in – telling the elderly they’ll have to wait because of the Trump administration’s “empty promises.” Other states, however, have done the opposite. Leaders in two states — Colorado and Tennessee — told local health officials who’s started to vaccinate school employees to stop immediately so seniors could receive their doses first. In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee said this weekhe is moving forward with plans to vaccinate all residents ages 65 and older and people ages 50 and older who live in multigenerational households. He described the step as “really exciting news.” “The reason for this is clear,” Inslee said. ” … Our vaccine prioritizations obviously reflect the need to protect these most vulnerable Washingtonians.” — Aimee Green; ; @o_aimee Staffers Brad Schmidt, Andrew Theen, Rob Davis and Fedor Zarkhin contributed to this story. Note to readers: if you purchase something through one of our affiliate links we may earn a commission. Disclaimer Cookie Settings © 2021 Advance Local Media LLC. All rights reserved ( About Us ). The material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used, except with the prior written permission of Advance Local. Community Rules apply to all content you upload or otherwise submit to this site.