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State's COVID vaccine distribution discriminates

It was profoundly disappointing to learn Friday that the COVID-19 vaccination of seniors, which Gov. Kate Brown promised Thursday would start this week, has been delayed at least another month. It’s understandable that some delay is required because the anticipated doses from the federal government will be lower than what was anticipated. However, I am appalled at the bias against seniors and males in the current vaccination plans.

Here’s why.

According to the state’s own vaccination database as of Friday, Jan. 15, there have been 173,073 vaccine doses administered. Of these, only 15,000 have gone to people 70 and older, yet 56,000 have gone to people under 40 years old. And of those 173,000 given, 100,000 have gone to females and 53,000 to males.

I wrote to the governor and our local legislators regarding this discrimination, as Oregon’s Jan. 7 plan was to put off vaccination of seniors indefinitely. So I was heartened to hear Thursday that she seemed to have listened and now included seniors in plans for priority vaccination, along with educators, the next week. Yet Friday, due to the lesser number of doses available, she said educators would still have vaccines available starting Feb. 8, but she removed seniors from the priority and there is still no date set for when they could get vaccinated.

There has also been obvious sex discrimination in Oregon’s vaccination approach. Given that the overwhelming number of people vaccinated to date have been females, I would have expected the governor to fix this imbalance by focusing on making vaccines more available to males. However, she has done the opposite, as approximately 75% of the now prioritized educators are females. Therefore, this discrimination against males will get worse under the policy shift the governor announced today.

The governor’s policies are not only discriminatory against seniors and males, they don’t focus on fixing most dire needs. According to today’s Oregon’s website, almost two-thirds (63%) of our COVID-19 hospitalizations and over 91% of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in people 60 or older. Of the 1,752 who have died from COVID-19 in Oregon, only 19 people under 40 have died, yet 1,600 over 60 have died. Yet Oregon has focused on vaccinating those people at the expense of seniors.

Males are also more at risk of dying from COVID-19, as 53% of Oregon’s hospitalizations and deaths have been among males.

Senior male friends of mine in Alaska and Washington have already been vaccinated. They weren’t in care facilities, but just got the vaccine because of the risk to them. In other words, Oregon’s governor has chosen to ignore the practices in other states, federal recommendations, and common sense.

Oregon’s vaccination policy should be focused on those most at risk of dying now. Those are seniors, both women and men. The current policy is akin to having a terrible accident on the highway where victims are dying, yet police are instead dispatched to handle calls on barking dogs.

Of course I want to see schools and businesses reopen. But throwing seniors under the bus while educators are prioritized won’t do that. Getting seniors vaccinated will help everyone get back to work. Concerns over the virus effect on the health of seniors have led to onerous requirements for masks, social distancing, and business closures. These restrictions have led to fury in many people, especially people who have felt discriminated against by the government. By getting seniors vaccinated, much of that concern can be alleviated and we can get back to a more normal life much quicker.

In these times when the nation needs to heal, the governor should take steps that stop the unneeded dying and heal our economy and wounds. The governor’s past and current approach does just the opposite. It should change.

Kent Patrick-Riley lives in Ashland.

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