Today, the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Director, Rachael Banks and Dr. Tom Jeanne, OHA Senior Health Advisor joined Governor Kate Brown to provide an update on Oregon’s plan for delivering booster shots of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to eligible Oregonians. Colt Gill, Director of the Oregon Department of Education (ODE), also answered questions about schools and COVID-19.
Dr. Jeanne shared a cautiously optimistic view of Oregon’s current COVID-19 case and hospitalization rates but warned that the Delta variant is still a threat. “Our ability to sustain this welcome trend depends on more Oregonians getting vaccinated, on all of us continuing to wear masks in indoor public spaces and outdoors among crowds, and reconsidering plans that put us or others at high risk of getting COVID-19,” Dr. Jeanne said. “We cannot drop our guard and risk a resurgence that could overwhelm our health care system—our health care workers and resources have been severely strained for far too long.”
Governor Brown, OHA and ODE leadership emphasized throughout the importance of all Oregonians completing their first or second doses if possible and encouraged those eligible to make a plan to get their Pfizer booster shot.
Western States Scientific Safety Review workgroup expands Pfizer booster use recommendations
Director Banks explained how the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup expanded on the federal recommendations to support use of the Pfizer booster among people ages 18-64 who have underlying medical conditions, and who are in occupational or institutional settings that put them at higher risk of COVID-19 exposure and transmission. These include:
- Health care workers, first responders such as firefighters and police, and congregate care staff.
- Those who work in educational settings such as teachers, support staff and daycare workers.
- Food and agriculture workers.
- Manufacturing workers.
- Corrections workers.
- U.S. Postal Service workers.
- Public transit workers.
- Grocery store workers.
In Oregon, “health care workers” includes all patient-facing health care staff, not just medical workers. This includes food service and housekeeping staff at hospitals; workers who treat high-risk patients in outpatient substance use treatment programs, those who provide non-emergency medical transportation, work in hospices, or care for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities—All the same groups that were prioritized to receive the COVID-19 vaccines in Phases 1a and 1b of Oregon’s vaccine distribution plan.
Director Banks also emphasized the need to address the long-standing health and social inequities when developing a plan to ensure both initial vaccine doses and boosters are available to Oregon’s Asian, Black, Indigenous, People of Color and Tribal communities. The Western States workgroup also recommends looking at these factors when assessing who is at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19.
If you are fully vaccinated, you are protected
Governor Brown and OHA were clear: If you are not eligible for a Pfizer booster or you have received a Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine, there is no need to worry. All three vaccines protect against serious illness and death from COVID-19.
As Governor Brown noted, “We continue to see the powerful effectiveness of all three vaccines. We also continue to see how dangerous COVID remains for those who are unvaccinated. Vaccines continue to be the key to putting this pandemic behind us.”
Even though some vaccinated people get sick from COVID-19, the vaccines still work. “Unless a vaccine is 100% effective,” Dr. Jeanne explained, “so long as the virus is circulating, some vaccinated people will get sick. And the more vaccinated people there are, the more breakthrough cases we can expect to see. The increasing number is primarily an indication that we’re seeing more vaccinated people. The vast majority of the breakthrough cases in vaccinated people result in either mild symptoms or none at all.”
“Boosters offer an extra layer of protection — and that is really important for individuals at higher risk of exposure or illness,” Governor Brown said. “But you are still fully vaccinated with the two doses.”
Beyond boosters: Get vaccinated and stay safe to help stop the spread of COVID-19
“Getting vaccinated, along with continuing to wear masks, keeping our distance from others and avoiding gatherings, is – quite simply – our state’s ticket out of this pandemic,” Director Banks said. Governor Brown, Dr. Jeanne and Director Gill echoed this sentiment in their responses to questions and concerns about school closures, possible surges due to large events such as the Pendleton Round-Up, delayed in-school testing and local availability of COVID-19 testing.
Testing, Oregon’s protocols for safe, in-person learning and other safety precautions are tools we can use to identify where to improve our safety protocols in all settings, Director Gill explained. But the vaccines are what will allow Oregon teachers and students to stay in school safely. They will also help Oregon’s health care workers remain available to provide care.
Director Banks shared that Oregon’s supply of the Pfizer vaccine in Oregon is strong – More than enough doses are available to provide a booster shot to the estimated 300,000 people currently eligible for one. Oregon vaccination sites have enough supply to also provide first and second doses to Oregonians still needing to complete their initial vaccination series.
“If you are unvaccinated, you have never been more vulnerable to being sickened by the virus, passing the virus on to your loved ones, getting seriously ill or dying from COVID-19,” said Dr. Jeanne. If you are unvaccinated you are risking the health of your family, your loved ones and everyone you encounter while infected.”
Vaccines are safe and the most effective way to protect us against serious illness and hospitalizations due to COVID-19. Find more information and a vaccine site near you today by visiting our Find a COVID-19 Vaccine in Oregon web page.
You can watch a recording of today’s press conference below.