Groups Representing Older Oregonians Ask Gov. Kate Brown to Reconsider Putting Teachers Ahead of Them

About 90% of Oregonians who have died during the pandemic are over the age of 60.

Two groups representing seniors in Oregon have asked Gov. Kate Brown to reconsider her decision to place teachers and school personnel in front of seniors in the line to get COVID-19 vaccinations.

Brown's choice to put teachers ahead of seniors is unusual, the groups note, and puts Oregon out of step with the prioritization in 45 other states.

The Governor's Commission on Senior Services made that point in a Jan. 25 letter to Brown.

"Other states sought to prioritize teacher vaccinations and reversed or altered those plans based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation to vaccinate older people, people with preexisting health conditions, and people at a very high risk of exposure first," the commission wrote. "Your decision directly contradicts those guidelines. There are 45 other states that are listening to the science and vaccinating vulnerable seniors."

At the time the letter was written, the commission noted, 91% of the Oregonians who had died from COVID-19 were aged 60 or older.

Age+, an Oregon nonprofit founded in 2018 to advocate for older adults, said in a letter today that Brown's choice would unnecessarily cost lives.

"This decision will result in a higher death rate for Oregonians that is preventable," the letter says. "Abundant data bears this out, and confirms that older people in communities of color will be hardest hit of all."

The group added that seniors living outside regulated facilities are particularly vulnerable.

"While licensed congregate care settings have been among the first to receive the vaccine, this generally has not included residents in independent living centers or intergenerational households, many of whom are among communities of color. By not prioritizing people 65+ known to be at higher risk in the next phase, the decision leaves vulnerable groups such as these behind."

Although Brown has offered the vaccine to teachers and school personnel, it is far from clear that the state's larger districts will offer widespread in-person instruction anytime soon.

Older adults have willingly made sacrifices during this national catastrophe, and will continue to do so," the Age+ letter says. "However, the unnecessary deaths of those 65+ known to be more vulnerable, when a vaccine is now available, will be unbearably tragic for Oregon families if you do not include them in the next phase. Older Oregonians will pay for the current prioritization with their lives."

Brown's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment but in an interview today with WW's news partner, KATU-TV, she told reporter Lincoln Graves that she's hearing seniors' concerns and said she had prioritized them since the beginning of the pandemic.

"We have vaccinated this entire population that lives in congregate care—in assisted living facilities and in skilled nursing facilities," Brown said. "Everyone who lives in these facilities and has asked for a vaccination has gotten one."

The governor added that she's also concerned with students who haven't been inside classrooms since March. In addition to missing instruction, she said, many are missing the meals schools provide and are suffering psychologically.

"I'm using every tool I can to get our kids back in the classroom," Brown said. "This simply adds another layer of protection for education staff."