Frustration. Confusion. Fear. Anger.
Anyone who is paying attention to the COVID-19 pandemic is familiar with these emotions.
When a nation is faced with a tremendous challenge, the actions of federal, state and local governments set the tone for how we as individuals respond.
The virus known as COVID-19 is a tremendous challenge. But, rather than uniting Americans against a common enemy (the virus), many government actions have led to division.
Oregon has, in many ways, been a success story when compared to other states. Our hospitals have not been overwhelmed by COVID-19. Cases per 100,000 population are the second lowest in the nation. Death rates are the sixth lowest in the nation.
The unemployment rate in Oregon is in the middle of the pack — 19th highest in the nation — indicating that the state’s actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have been effective without disproportionately damaging our economy.
Now, Oregon’s new case rate is on a significant downward trend after the spike that began during the December 2020 holidays.
That’s all the good news.
Broken promises at the federal level first complicated Oregon’s vaccine rollout. Expected vaccines did not materialize.
Once vaccines began arriving in Oregon, what should have been a well-planned, easy-to-understand vaccination program has become deeply political.
The governor’s actions have pitted senior citizens and the medically vulnerable against educators. And now, with the announcement that promised vaccines would be diverted from multiple rural counties to the Portland metro area, there is the appearance of pitting urban vs. rural.
Thus, more frustration, confusion, fear and anger.
It didn’t have to be this way. Oregon should have followed the Centers for Disease and Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice’s COVID-19 recommendations, which spelled out in detail how vaccines should be prioritized for vulnerable groups. Doses should be distributed proportionally to counties, based on population — with small tweaks to assure the most vulnerable groups are vaccinated first.
Oregon has thrown this logical and science-based guidance out the window, replacing it with complicated and ever-changing plans. An Oregon COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee was created to ensure the needs of “systemically affected populations, including communities of color” yet educators — a group that is 89% white, according to the 2020 Oregon Educator Equity Report — were moved ahead of senior citizens and affected communities of color.
Rural Morrow County — population 11,600 — vaccinated all health care providers and was ready to vaccinate educators and senior citizens per state recommendations last week, when it was told that further doses destined for the county were being sent to the Portland metro area instead.
Nearly 17% of Morrow County residents are 65 or older; 37.7% are Hispanic or Latino; 16.7% are foreign-born. So much for racial equity and reaching out to underserved and rural communities. More frustration, confusion, fear and anger.
It’s time for Oregon to hit the restart button when it comes to vaccine rollout. Stick to ACIP guidance and send out the vaccine to counties based on population.
Take the politics out of it.