SALEM — Oregon began vaccinating teachers for COVID-19 on Monday, Jan. 25, but farmworkers and other workers considered to be essential will have to wait until May under the state’s latest schedule.

In a press briefing Jan. 22, Gov. Kate Brown defended her latest decision to reject federal guidelines and prioritize teachers and other school staff for the vaccine before the elderly or people with underlying conditions.

Oregon Health Authority said seniors ages 70 to 74 will be pushed back to Feb. 28 and those 65 to 69 must now wait until March 7.

Essential workers, including those in the agricultural sector, will become eligible for vaccines in Phase 1b of a four-phase plan, meaning they are now fifth in line after health care workers, educators, people 65 and over and those with underlying conditions.

“I know there will still be some who disagree with this choice,” Brown told reporters. “I also know there are many Oregonians who are eager to get the vaccine. The harsh reality is we are managing a scarce resource right now. I wish we had more vaccines to give.”

Jan. 12, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services urged states to prioritize aging people and those with underlying health conditions. Other states complied, but Oregon went its own direction.

Brown said her goal is “to get our kids back in the classroom this school year,” but she received mixed responses for putting teachers first.

Some education groups say the move is crucial to help the state’s students.

Others, including leaders of the Portland Association of Teachers and Oregon State University, have expressed concern, saying schools won’t be safe until communities are safe. If schools open, they say, children and educators can still carry the virus home to other family members.

Even if all teachers get vaccinated, that doesn’t mean all schools will open immediately.

Marc Siegel, spokesperson for Oregon Department of Education, told the Capital Press his agency’s highest priority is “to return our schools to in-person instruction.” But Siegel said each school has its own plan.

Some school districts, he said, are considering summer school options. Siegel said the state will use about $450,000 in incoming coronavirus aid money from the federal government to help make up for lost learning.

It could be months before farmworkers and others in the food sector get vaccinated.

Oregon has been vaccinating health care workers, the top priority group, since December.

The state has upwards of 400,000 health care workers, and as of Sunday, Oregon Health Authority spokesperson Jonathan Modie told the Capital Press 308,051 doses have been administered.

It also will take time to vaccinate educators, daycare workers and school staff — about 110,000 people, according to the Oregon Department of Education.

Then comes Oregon’s 65-and-older crowd. According to Census data, this includes about 764,400 people. Health officials predict nearly 80% of seniors will be vaccinated by the end of the first week of May.

The second week of May, essential workers are expected to be eligible. This will include agricultural workers, but OHA has not yet announced who will take priority.

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