As a descendant of the Emerald Isle, I am always open to a raucous donnybrook. So, last week when the state unceremoniously diverted the 600 doses of life-saving COVID-19 vaccine away from my tribe and west to the Metro region, I wasted little time in ginning up some righteous indignation.
As my blood pressure dropped, I began to wonder if I had fully considered what was best for the larger society before insisting that we receive our “fair” share.
The East Oregonian printed a cartoon the other day that depicted the convoluted metrics surrounding the bioethics of proper vaccine distribution. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommended, among other things, that the federal government allocate the vaccine to the states based upon the number of folks in each risk category. For example, Massachusetts has far more health care workers than does Oregon, and Oregon far more than Nevada and so on. The states would have none of it, insisting that it be sent out on a per capita basis.
So, by the time Massachusetts finishes vaccinating those in the 1A category, Nevada will be wrangling in the buckaroos of any age. Still, the states wouldn’t budge, they wanted theirs, for their people.
When it got to Oregon, the counties, following form, asked only for an equitable distribution based on population. It was then that the Oregon Health Authority insisted that it needed to follow the CDC recommendations and a plethora of its own.
The first criteria that they measured was whether we had finished vaccinating our health care providers and, upon hearing that we had, despite having insisted that we had 600 doses inward-bound, they hijacked the shipment — and here we are.
As much as I fight first and foremost for the constituents of Morrow County, I remain open to the general plight of Oregon’s 36 counties. And after all, caring is sharing.
Above and beyond that, the state has built in some other reasonable measures. First, stem the flow, stop the bleeding, send it to the highest case rate area. Second, focus on the essential workers. Focus on the mortality per capita areas. And last but not least, the marginalized, underserved, minority populations. And one the state has forgotten, but I have not, is our seniors.
The pandemic of 1918 inundated the immigrant community. Those seeking a foothold in the United States died at a rate 10-fold that of the establishment. The Irish, Italian and Hispanic populations were devastated.
A century later not much has changed. The Hispanic community is four and a half times more apt to be afflicted. Why? Well according to the CDC, they make up the bulk of our essential workers, they tend to live in multigenerational housing, and they are the most likely to be denied paid time off, leading to working while ill. The state, though, is rightly trying to correct this inequity.
Earlier this year, as the president of the Association of Oregon Counties, I sat in on a BIPOC, or Black, Indigenous & People of Color, symposium. It was made up of legislators, contributors and some 300 audience members all west of the Cascades. At its conclusion, I suggested that we should host one from Eastern Oregon and that I should be a presenter. Incredulously, they asked what Eastern Oregon, or Morrow County more specifically, had to do with minority challenges? That reason, and the reason I am ready to agree with the state metrics, follow.
So why have I succumbed to the criteria for vaccine allocation? Because we are ground zero. We lead the state in essential workers on a per capita basis, we lead the state in case rate, we are at the top in mortality per 1,000, and lastly, we lead the state in minority or BIPOC population!
If I thought for a minute that the Metro area would forego the inoculations for their susceptible senior population until Massachusetts finishes Phase 1A, I might tell our elderly to wait patiently. You and I know that bioethics only works when it is convenient, and they will not give up an ounce of cure and neither shall I.
I will continue to fight for my tribe, fight for their lives.
Jim Doherty is a Morrow County commissioner.