By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
Oregon Health officials on Friday defended a decision to vaccinate teachers before senior citizens saying the move is necessary to get kids back into classrooms this year.
“Educators are next-up in Oregon. I know that’s controversial,” said Oregon Health Authority Public Health Director Rachael Banks. “But if we want to re-open schools this school year, with a workforce of educators that has the confidence to re-enter a classroom knowing they are protected by a vaccine, this is the time to act.”
Vaccinations for teachers started this week and are expected to ramp up in the coming weeks with the goal of having all of Oregon’s roughly 150,000 educators and child care providers vaccinated by Feb. 8th.
That’s when Oregon’s seniors 80 and over would then start to get vaccinations.
Banks joined Gov. Kate Brown, OHA leaders, education officials and teachers during a virtual press conference Friday to talk about the vaccination plan.
It’s a plan that’s changed dramatically over the last couple of weeks.
On Jan. 12th, Brown announced the vaccination of Oregon seniors––as well as child care providers and early learning and K-12 educators and staff––would start on January 23, when additional vaccine shipments were expected to begin arriving from the federal government.
But just two days later the governor announced that shipment wasn’t coming and teachers would leapfrog seniors in the state’s vaccination schedule.
Brown said at the time the move was made to stick to her commitment of getting students back to the classroom for the last four and a half months of the school year.
The governor and OHA officials stood by that decision Friday.
“If we waited to vaccinate educators after seniors, we wouldn’t have enough doses of vaccines to finish vaccinating them until May. Again, the scarcity of doses forces states to make tough calls and hard choices,” Banks said. “Seniors are our most vulnerable population, along with others we deeply care about. Quickly vaccinating educators adds to the robust safety guidelines for schools and helps to get students back into classrooms, and parents back to work, months sooner.”
Bend-La Pine K-3 students went back to class this week with a one-day orientation.
Students will return to full-time, in-person learning on Monday.
Redmond, meanwhile, had planned on having all its students back in class on Feb. 8th. But late Friday announced a local spike in COVID cases will delay that plan until Feb. 22nd.
“There’s exponential value here too,” Brown said. “For every teacher who is back in the classroom, they help 20, 30, 35 students get their life back on track.”
Brown cited statistics that show Oregon has the second-lowest COVID infection rate among seniors and the third lowest death rate among those 65 and older.
“We have been navigating this pandemic for almost a year. I’m asking these seniors to hold tight and stay safe for just a few more weeks,” Brown said. “I know so many Oregon grandparents are happy to do that in an effort to get their grandchildren back in the classroom as quickly and as safely as possible.”
The OHA on Friday released a new timeline for upcoming vaccinations through the first part of May.
It shows seniors 65-69 are scheduled to get their first doses the the first week in March.