May 16 2021
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Story by Dan McCarthy - Story Source
Published on Tuesday March 9, 2021 - 11:00 PM

PORTLAND, Ore. — As millions continue to wait to become eligible for the coronavirus vaccine, controversy continues over when certain groups of individuals, like smokers, are vaccinated.

Oregon and Washington have two different approaches to determining when those who smoke will be vaccinated.

The CDC lists smoking as an underlying condition that puts people at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

In states like New Jersey and Mississippi, smokers were among the first to become eligible for vaccination.

In Washington, the state elected to list smoking as one of the two required comorbidities in order to qualify in Phase 1b Tier 3, which is expected to start receiving vaccinations on April 12th.

However in Oregon, only those who currently have an illness that resulted from smoking are listed as a priority for vaccination, whereas otherwise healthy smokers are not listed.

We reached out to the offices of both Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Oregon Governor Kate Brown to get answers on why the two states that are often in lockstep on rules surrounding the pandemic, are approaching the smoking demographic differently.

In a statement from Charles Boyle, the Deputy Communications Director for Governor Brown's office, the state says that individuals who smoke will become eligible when the population starts getting vaccinated at large.

"Governor Brown's priority is to vaccinate those individuals most at risk to COVID-19 as quickly as possible. These are tough decisions, and scarce vaccine supplies mean we can't vaccinate everyone at once. Oregon made the decision to prioritize people with illnesses that result from smoking, as those Oregonians are at more immediate risk than smokers without any underlying conditions. While smoking does pose a number of health risks, those individuals will be eligible for vaccination within a few months, when Oregon begins vaccinating the population at large. In the meantime, this decision will allow us to distribute more vaccines to individuals with underlying conditions and frontline workers. However, each state is reviewing the CDC's recommendations and making the decision that works best for their state in the context of their state vaccination program.

We also heard from the office of Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who deferred to the state department of health.