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Health and Medicine

Vaccinate Communities Of Color By Vaccinating Essential Workers, Write Oregon Legislators Of Color

A 26-year-old man receives an injection in September of an experimental Ebola vaccine being tested by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and GlaxoSmithKline.
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In a letter to Oregon's Vaccine Advisory Committee, Oregon state representatives of color asked them to make decisions about who gets vaccinate first based on "the data of who is most vulnerable because of their occupation and living position.”

Oregon should shift the focus of its COVID-19 vaccination strategy to essential workers and other vulnerable people, according to a letter drafted by Oregon state lawmakers of color and sent Monday to the Vaccine Advisory Committee.

”We strongly believe that we need to prioritize the people who are in significantly vulnerable situations and who are dying right now — frontline workers, adults in custody, and people in low-income senior housing and other congregate care facilities,” wrote members of the Oregon Legislature’s BIPOC Caucus in the letter, which was obtained by OPB. BIPOC is an acronym that stands for Black, Indigenous and people of color.

Currently, the Vaccine Advisory Committee recommends prioritizing vaccines for Oregonians who are Black, Indigenous or people of color and for people with pre-existing health conditions, ahead of other groups of frontline workers, people living in custody, and others. The committee consists of representatives and public health professionals. Gov. Kate Brown’s administration has tasked the committee with determining who goes next.

Communities of color have been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic in Oregon. The state has asked the committee to consider equity and anti-racism as it deliberates its recommendations.

The BIPOC Caucus’s letter contends that the Vaccine Advisory Committee should “base its decisions on the data of who is most vulnerable because of their occupation and living position.”

“These frontline and essential workers, adults in custody, and people in low-income senior housing and other congregate care settings, are disproportionately BIPOC, and by prioritizing frontline and essential workers and communities, we are centering BIPOC communities,” the letter said.

The writers expressed concerns that this current method pits members of communities of color against each other, and against other at-risk groups.

Oregon’s vaccine rollout has come under criticism, including from members of the Vaccine Advisory Committee, for being bogged down by time-consuming deliberations over rank ordering of various groups that should be prioritized for vaccinations.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting.