Our Opinion: Kate Brown's photo op subtracts a local shot
The rest of Oregon seems to pay little attention to what goes on in Columbia County. Though Scappoose is just a 20-minute drive from downtown Portland, it sometimes feels like north of Cornelius Pass Road is a whole world away.
But not so this past Saturday, as Gov. Kate Brown made a surprise trip to the OHSU Primary Care Clinic in Scappoose to receive her COVID-19 vaccination.
First of all, we're happy to have the governor, or any other state official or candidate for office, come up to Columbia County. It's good for them to be reminded that Vancouver, Washington, isn't all that's north of Portland.
Secondly, and more to the point: What does the governor think she's doing, schlepping up here from Mahonia Hall to get a shot that likely would have gone into the arm of a senior citizen, school employee or health professional in the Scappoose/St. Helens area?
Brown is 60 years old, and unless you count signing the Student Success Act or issuing executive orders on public health, she doesn't work in the fields of education or healthcare, which have priority access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Under the timetable produced by the Oregon Health Authority, in concert with the governor's office, she is five years short of qualifying to receive a vaccination based on her age.
And despite the howls of critics who have accused her of making Oregonians "prisoners in our own homes" over the past year, Brown does not qualify as a correctional officer (nor an adult in custody, whom a judge ruled last month should be vaccinated ahead of the general population).
Brown is also, clearly, not a resident of Columbia County. She and her husband live in the governor's official residence in Salem, three counties away from here.
The governor said she wanted to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, in full view of our news photographer and a TV crew, to instill public confidence in the vaccine's safety. As a minority of Americans continues to insist they don't want to be vaccinated against the highly contagious, potentially fatal disease that has ground our county, our state, our country and our world to a virtual standstill over the past year, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been maligned in particular.
Taking Brown at her word, that's an admirable goal. Vaccines are very effective at providing individual protection, but in order for them to truly defeat a contagious illness, we rely on herd immunity — in which enough people have enough effective protection against the virus that it can no longer circulate within the population, so it dies out. If and when we achieve herd immunity, we can stop masking up, stop socially distancing and go back to life as it existed without the virus.
Studies suggest the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is somewhat less effective than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines at preventing infections altogether. However, it is just as effective at preventing the kind of severe illness and complications that can result in hospitalization and death. In trials, no patient who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was hospitalized with or died from this virus that has now claimed well over half a million American lives.
The public should be confident in the COVID-19 vaccines — all three of them that have been authorized by federal regulators. Brown and other leaders absolutely should be standing up to say, "Yes, these vaccines are safe and effective, and you should get your vaccine as soon as you can."
The problem is that "as soon as you can" seems to mean something different when you're the governor of Oregon than it does when you're just an ordinary resident of Oregon.
For more than a year now, Oregonians have been going to jobs where they have regular interactions with the public, work in close quarters with other employees or both, with the constant awareness that anyone could be infected with the coronavirus, knowingly or unknowingly, and that they could get sick, or pass the virus to someone else, potentially just by breathing the same air as them.
For more than a year now, older adults and adults with preexisting conditions have been living with the fear of COVID-19, which has killed more than 2,300 Oregonians and sent thousands more to the hospital. By the numbers, these adults are far likelier to develop complications than younger, healthier people, and they are far, far likelier to die as a result of them.
For more than a year now, Oregonians have been dealing with executive orders from Brown's desk that have been intended to "slow the spread," "flatten the curve" and "stay home, save lives." These orders have been met with plenty of grumbling, but they've generally had the public's support, and by and large, they've had our support as well. If you're a regular reader, then you've read plenty of times in these pages that these orders are well-intentioned, health and safety guidelines are important to follow, and we all have to be patient and understanding while this crisis runs its course. All the same, they have caused widespread disruptions, keeping kids home from school for nearly a calendar year, forcing many businesses to close — often temporarily, sometimes for good — and leaving tens of thousands of Oregonians jobless or underemployed.
Read our Feb. 17, 2021, editorial on the importance of being patient and kind in dealing with the ongoing pandemic.
So, it's understandable how we view the vaccines: as manna from heaven. These shots will save Oregonians' lives, and they'll let us all get on with ours. Every needle in every arm is a victory. It spells relief and augurs freedom. Will any of us ever forget the moment we were first vaccinated against COVID-19?
Brown's office says she went to Scappoose for her vaccination to highlight the work of a nationally recognized rural health clinic. That's a wonderful thought. But why does that clinic have to provide a vaccine to an out-of-county resident for its work to be highlighted?
Surely, if Brown or the Oregon Health Authority wanted to trumpet the accomplishments of the OHSU Primary Care Clinic in Scappoose, they could have done so with an award, or perhaps a video message. Instead of focusing the lens on the governor's upper arm, they could have focused on the people who live in Columbia County and are served by their local clinic, or the hardworking health professionals who care for them.
We don't mean to sound unfriendly. We would be happy to see the governor visiting Scappoose to see the innovative work that teachers and school administrators have put into making their classrooms safe for young learners, who were able to return to school weeks before other Portland-area children because of those efforts. We would be encouraged to see the governor meeting with struggling business owners and out-of-work residents in St. Helens, where COVID-19 is only the latest in a long line of setbacks to the local economy.
Columbia County is a real place, with real people and real problems that state leaders like Brown need to take seriously. Among those real people are thousands still waiting patiently for their COVID-19 vaccine. Among those real problems are health and safety restrictions, made necessary by the virus, but hard on wage-earners and entrepreneurs nonetheless.
We hope people here will get vaccinated as expeditiously as possible, and we hope that if they're offered the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, they will take it. But we wish Kate Brown had been willing to wait at least a little longer for hers — and that she had left that little vial for a Columbia County resident who needed it at least a little more.
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