Older Oregonians upset teachers set to get COVID-19 vaccine before them

The move runs counter to a recent recommendation by a CDC panel that puts older Americans first.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Some senior citizens in Oregon are angry that Gov. Kate Brown moved teachers in front of them when it comes to getting vaccinated for COVID-19.

The governor made the announcement last week and knew it would not be popular in some circles.

“Look, these are really, really tough decisions and the harsh reality is we do not have enough vaccines to vaccinate everyone at once,” she said Friday.

Many Oregonians in their 70s and above contacted KGW to share their outrage. Trish Smith said she was surprised to hear the governor’s order putting teachers first.

“It was really depressing,” she said. “Like being hit in the gut again.”

Smith is 77, lives alone and would love to get the coronavirus vaccine. She has a condition that makes it hard for her to breathe. But because she lives independently, she will have to wait until tens of thousands of teachers and support staff get their COVID-19 shots first.

That runs counter to a recent recommendation by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) panel that puts older Americans first — and Smith knows it.

“The recommendations from the CDC are that seniors should have priority either at 70 or 75 because we are the ones who die,” Smith said.

She does not expect to survive if she gets the coronavirus.

The Oregon Education Association represents 44,000 teachers across the state and is one of the most powerful unions in Oregon. Its president, John Larson has nothing against older Oregonians.

“All things being equal, if they weren’t being put into that situation — if they could continue with comprehensive distance learning — then you probably should prioritize the elderly,” Larson said.

But he feels the governor is forcing teachers back into the classroom by giving local school districts control of when to reopen.

RELATED: Lake Oswego elementary students expected to begin hybrid learning in February

“If the governor is going to insist that schools reopen to in-person instruction, then we must insist that they be vaccinated before they do that,” said Larson “They need some modicum of safety in order to feel they can go back and do their jobs without fear.”

Larson said half his members have underlying conditions that makes the coronavirus more dangerous for them.

A vaccine advisory board is helping Brown decide who should get priority when it comes to shots, but it seems clear the governor has made up her mind on this one.

“In terms of seniors that are living independently, I encourage them to continue to take precautions,” Brown said.

RELATED: 27-person committee to help decide who gets the COVID-19 vaccine next in Oregon