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Teachers, School Staff to Get Vaccines

Due to COVID-19 vaccine shortage, Oregon prioritizes teachers over seniors in next vaccination group

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Update, 1/21: The story below and a previous headline in this story stated that school staff members would be eligible for vaccination starting Jan. 25. According to Deschutes County today, the Oregon Health Authority has granted the county  approval to begin vaccinating staff in K-12 schools, including teachers and other early child care workers—earlier than that Jan. 25 date. "Deschutes County and St. Charles Health System expect to provide vaccines to 2,500 K-12 teachers this weekend," a press release from the county stated. The St. Charles/Deschutes County community vaccination clinic is now located at the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center.

A shortage of vaccines in the federal supply is leading to further delays in vaccinating seniors, according to a press briefing from the office of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown Jan. 15. Under the previous vaccination priority framework, teachers and other school staff were prioritized alongside all seniors 65 and older. However, delivering on that goal depended on receiving additional vaccine supply from the federal stockpile, Brown said. Teachers, school staff and those working in early education and child care who were not otherwise eligible for vaccination under “Priority Group 1A” will still be eligible for vaccination starting Jan. 25. Seniors will see a two-week delay.
Pine Ridge Elementary School Life Skills Education Assistant Joey Kansky was the first educator in Deschutes County to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. - COURTESY BEND-LA PINE SCHOOLS
  • Courtesy Bend-La Pine Schools
  • Pine Ridge Elementary School Life Skills Education Assistant Joey Kansky was the first educator in Deschutes County to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.
The confusion on vaccine allotment started with a Jan. 12 announcement from U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II that the federal government would release the COVID-19 vaccine doses it held in reserve. Health officials in Oregon hoped to use the extra vaccines to quickly expand vaccination to more people, including those 65 and older, and scheduled to start vaccinating educators and seniors at the same time. But by the end of the week, it became apparent that no such doses were available.

Brown said in her press conference that she learned there were no additional doses on Jan. 14. Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen said he attempted to contact Azar about the issue in a letter dated Jan. 14 and later posted by The New York Times and NBC News. As of Friday’s press conference, Allen had not received a response.

“Let me be very clear, this is deception on a national scale,” Brown said during the press conference. “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.” She expressed similar sentiments on Twitter.

With the supply of vaccines remaining flat, reprioritization had to occur, according to Brown and Allen. Instead of offering the vaccine simultaneously to both school staff and seniors 65 and older, school staff will be eligible for vaccination starting Jan. 25, with a few counties starting earlier.
Seniors 80 and older who do not otherwise qualify under “Priority Group 1A,” will be eligible for vaccination Feb. 8, with additional seniors vaccinated in three waves, Allen said, starting with those 80 and older, then 75 and older followed by everyone 70 and then 65 and older.



OHA officials did not say when those under 80 would begin receiving vaccines. However, Allen did point out that there’s cross-over between the most vulnerable seniors 65 and older and those already prioritized in “Priority Group 1A,” like seniors living in long-term care and assisted-living facilities.

The plan to vaccinate local teachers
Bend-La Pine Schools will work with St. Charles Health System to provide vaccination to the district’s approximately 2,200 teachers and staff. Staff register through an app already in use by the district, Julianne Repman, director of communication and safety for BLPS, said via email. The district started using the tool to register teachers who already qualified under “Priority Group 1A,” like those who work with students in life skills and special education classrooms and those who provide critical medical care to students and staff.

“The tool is very intuitive, provides a menu of available vaccine openings, sends a confirmation reminder and even sends a reminder for your second vaccine appointment,” Repman said. “All current employees who would like the vaccine will have an opportunity to complete the series,” Repman said. “If all goes well, we anticipate the vaccine being offered to all current employees during a mass vaccine event over three to five days. Once a person gets a first dose then the second is all but assured three to four weeks afterwards—Pfizer in three [weeks] and Moderna in four [weeks].”
“If the vaccine supply holds, we would like to work with our partners to make the second and final dose available in February,” she said.
This echoes sentiments from OHA’s Allen, who said OHA hopes to see most of Oregon’s 100,000 educators, school staff and child care providers vaccinated in about two weeks, with a focus on “high-throughput” events.

“We need to prioritize our allocation of vaccine doses to high-volume, high-throughput sites,” Allen said—referencing Salem Health’s recent vaccine clinic at the state fairgrounds. “In coming weeks, we’re coordinating with hospitals and local public health partners to drive doses to similar large-scale vaccination clinics throughout the state.”

Public Information Officer for the Redmond School District, Sheila Miller, said the Redmond district employs about 940 educators and staff. Parents and students in Redmond can expect similar processes and timelines as those in Bend.

“All districts in the county are working together with the county health department to arrange this process,” Miller said via email.

Vaccinations through both BLPS and RSD will be voluntary, according to Repman and Miller. Repman said they expect 75% or more teachers to choose to receive the vaccine based on a recent survey. For privacy reasons, students and parents in both districts will not know if educators are vaccinated unless an educator choses to share the information.

Potential challenges to making seniors wait
Not everyone favors prioritizing teachers over seniors. People at the OHA’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee meeting on Jan. 14 expressed concern during the public comment period that older adults have the highest rates of mortality from COVID-19. Additionally, Oregon State University recently held a Vaccine Expert Media Forum during which Dr. Courtney Campbell, Hundere Professor in Religion and Culture, fielded questions about the ethics of prioritizing teachers over the elderly and other high-risk individuals.

“Oregon is in a fairly unique standing throughout the nation in saying that teachers will be part of the Phase 1 rollout,” Campbell said. He says he’s “not privy” to the OHA Vaccine Advisory Committee’s ongoing discussions on how to prioritize vaccinations, but that health equity seems to be a “fairly significant” principle the committee uses to decide how to prioritize vaccination.

“There is no disagreement among the state of Oregon and other national bodies—whether it’d be the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] or the National Academies—guidelines on this,” he said. “It’s a matter of what other principles go into the discussion about vaccine allocation.
“If you’re going only with health equity, then it seems to me that it's hard to justify prioritizing K-12 teachers and school staff personnel,” Campbell said

He said he would like to see the OHA better communicate how other principles affect their prioritization decisions—principles like trying to save the most lives, trying to treat people equally regardless of social role and fairness and transparency.

“Those kinds of principles would help articulate, or at least give some grounds for prioritizing teachers and school staff,” Campbell said. “And no one disputes that it’s important to get the schools open as reasonably quickly as possible. But putting that ahead of individuals that actually are in need because they are in higher-risk categories? Again, we need some principle articulation from the Vaccine Advisory Committee for OHA.”

Want to know when you’re eligible for vaccination?
People living in Deschutes County can sign up online to receive an email when eligible based on age, occupation and potential high-risk factors. For more information on COVID-19 vaccination efforts throughout Oregon, visit 

About The Author

Ashley Moreno

Ashley is an amateur cook, trained chemist and aspiring forest hag. Until she can move into a small hut in the woods with her chihuahua, Grendel, she passes her time playing board games and watching movies. She loves all things crafty, from brewing beer to crocheting amigurumi. She joined the Source in 2020.

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