Oregon Gov. Kate Brown laid into the federal government Friday, blaming its “empty promises” to increase COVID-19 vaccine shipments as a key reason she is postponing the date older Oregonians will be eligible to get vaccinated by two to five weeks.
Instead of opening vaccinations to all residents ages 65 and older starting Jan. 23, as she had announced days earlier, Brown said she’d now allow Oregonian ages 80 and older to start vaccinations Feb. 8, followed by ages 75+ on Feb. 15, ages 70+ on Feb. 22 and ages 65+ on Feb. 22.
At the same time, Brown said she would move forward with her plans to prioritize the state’s K-12 school employees — allowing them to receive vaccinations starting as early as this week, with most starting Jan. 25. It’s unclear if the group of educators also will include childcare and preschool workers because the governor didn’t specify that Friday, although she had said days earlier that it would.
The governor’s announcement Friday comes after a wild 24 hours in which state officials learned that a Tuesday pledge from the federal government to boost vaccine shipments to the state wouldn’t become reality. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary had promised to release millions of second doses to states that the federal government had been stockpiling, then urged states to use the additional supply to open up vaccinations to their residents who are 65 and older or have underlying health conditions. Azar had made no recommendations about vaccinating teachers or other school employees — Brown did that on her own initiative.
By Thursday evening into Friday morning, many states were learning the additional stockpile wasn’t coming because it doesn’t exist.
“I am shocked and appalled that the federal government would set an expectation with the American people on which they knew they could not deliver with such grave consequences,” Brown said.
“I am certainly demanding answers from the Trump Administration,” she continued. “Their empty promises are literally playing with people’s lives. So many of Oregon’s seniors have spent the past year separated from their children and their grandchildren. And certainly we were eager to hear that additional life-saving vaccines were headed to the state for them.”
Brown faulted the federal government for delaying Oregon’s rollout to seniors — while at the same time acknowledging it is her decision alone to vaccinate educators, some who could head back into the classroom in coming weeks, but others who will not because of high rates of coronavirus spread in their communities.
“Here’s what I will say: While the Trump administration pulled the rug out from under us like a cruel joke, let me assure you that Oregon’s priorities and my priorities have not changed,” Brown said. “I remain committed to vaccinating our seniors quickly.”
At a news conference Friday, Brown received pointed questions asking her why she was prioritizing teachers and other school employees before older Oregonians, who are most at risk of dying from COVID-19. Since the pandemic began, 91% of people who’ve died in Oregon have been age 60 or older. They make up 25% of the population.
The statistics grow even more grim for the oldest Oregonians, with people 80 and older accounting for 53% of deaths but comprising only 4% of the population.
Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen had moments earlier said people 80 and older account for 30 percent of deaths, and when he and the governor were asked by The Oregonian/OregonLive if they understood the true number of older Oregonians dying, Allen apologized and said he had mixed up his numbers.
Brown responded that many of the seniors at highest risk of dying — those living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities — have already been offered a vaccination. The news organization pointed out that just over half of Oregonians dying aren’t in long-term care facilities and haven’t been offered vaccinations yet, and that at the current rate of 24 people dying each day, older Oregonians living independently in the community account for at least 10 of the people who are dying each day on average.
A delay of two weeks in rolling out the vaccine to older Oregonians would statistically add up to at least 140 more deaths. The delay in starting vaccinations will likely result in more deaths, if current mortality rates hold, given that residents 65 to 79 will have to wait three to five weeks for their turn in line.
Brown said seniors are an important priority.
“We have worked very hard to protect and care for our seniors,” Brown said in response to a question about the future anticipated death toll. “I’m absolutely committed to getting this population vaccinated as quickly as we can.”
But Brown also said in response to other reporters’ questioning that she is gravely concerned about the education of children, who are struggling academically and emotionally through online learning because the vast majority of classrooms in Oregon have remained closed since March. She said the youngest elementary students especially need to get back to in-person learning and that vaccinating school staff was a necessary step. Children ages 16 and under currently aren’t allowed to be vaccinated anywhere because the vaccines haven’t been proven safe yet in their age group.
“I know of families where 12 and 13 year olds are committing, attempting suicide,” Brown said. “I talked with the CEO and president of Salem Health on my vaccination tour this week. She is hearing of many 11 and 12 year olds attempting suicide.”
The Oregonian/OregonLive asked Salem Health representative for more details about the conversation the governor had with the CEO, but did not immediately hear back.
This is a developing story. Check back on OregonLive.com for more details.
— Aimee Green; [email protected]; @o_aimee
This content was originally published here.