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Governor defends decision to vaccinate Oregon teachers first

Jan. 22, 2021 Updated Fri., Jan. 22, 2021 at 9:39 p.m.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown visits the Marion County and Salem Health COVID-19 vaccination clinic on Jan. 13 in Salem, Ore.  (Abigail Dollins)
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown visits the Marion County and Salem Health COVID-19 vaccination clinic on Jan. 13 in Salem, Ore. (Abigail Dollins)
By Sara Cline Associated Press/Report for America Associated Press/Report for America

PORTLAND – Gov. Kate Brown on Friday defended her decision to reject federal guidelines and prioritize teachers for the COVID-19 vaccine before the elderly, stating that if all of Oregon’s seniors were vaccinated first, teachers would likely not be vaccinated before the school year ends and many students would not return to in-person learning.

In addition, during a news conference, officials from the Oregon Health Authority presented a new vaccination timeline that delays the eligibility for seniors 65 to 69 years old to be vaccinated until March 7 and those 70 to 74 pushed back to Feb. 28.

“I know there will still be some who disagree with this choice,” Brown said about prioritizing teachers. “I also know there are many Oregonians who are eager to get the vaccine. The harsh reality is we are managing a scarce resource right now. I wish we had more vaccines to give.”

Last week, following news that state’s would not receive as many vaccine doses as they had been told by the federal government, Oregon officials announced a change to the vaccine distribution – instead of vaccinating teachers and seniors at the same time, teachers would be vaccinated beginning Monday and Oregonians 80 or older beginning Feb. 8.

During Friday’s briefing, the governor addressed and further explained her decision – laying out estimated amounts of vaccines administered to certain groups each week, as well as hosting teacher and student speakers to discuss the struggles they have faced with distance learning.

“If schools remain remote, the potential education loss could be substantial,” Brown said. “This is especially true in mathematics, with students likely to lose five to nine months on learning by the end of this school year.”

Before winter break, less than 10% of Oregon’s estimated 580,000 students were receiving some form of in-person instruction, according to data from the Oregon Department of Education.

“If we were to vaccinate every Oregon senior first, the unfortunate and harsh reality is that many of our educators would not get vaccinated this school year and Oregon kids would continue to suffer,” Brown said. “If we flip that, and prioritize the needs of Oregon kids, it puts a two week delay on beginning vaccinations for seniors who live independently.”

The Oregon Health Authority said that there are approximately 105,000 teachers and other K-12 school staff and 47,000 early learning and childcare staff who are eligible for a vaccine starting Monday.

Seniors, who are 80 years are older, will be eligible two weeks later.

Health officials say that by the end of the first week that seniors are eligible for the vaccine, they predict that Oregon will be provided enough doses to vaccinate 57% of the educator workforce. This timeline does depend on doses the state receives from the federal government.

In addition, health officials predict that by the end of the first week of May, nearly 80% of seniors will be vaccinated.

“We have been navigating this pandemic for almost a year,” Brown said. “I am asking seniors to hold tight and to stay safe for just a few more weeks.”

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