Governor Brown, OHSU and OHA leadership urge COVID-19 vaccinations, boosters ahead of January Omicron surge

Today, Governor Brown, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) leadership shared information about the latest projection about the spread of COVID-19 in Oregon due to the new Omicron variant.

“I know that bracing for a new variant as we head into our second pandemic holiday season is not what we all hoped for,” Governor Brown said. “If you take one thing away from today’s press conference, let it be this: Get your booster shot. Boosters work and are incredibly effective at continuing your protection against this virus and hospitalization.”

Oregon has three weeks before the Omicron surge begins

Peter Graven, Ph.D., OHSU Healthcare Lead Data Scientist, reviewed the sobering forecast. “I had hoped to be able to share better news, but today’s forecast anticipates another surge of severe illness in Oregon.” OHSU’s Dec. 17 modeling report shows that Oregon has three weeks to prepare for a surge due to the Omicron variant, with hospitalizations exceeding Oregon’s hospitalizations caused by the Delta variant.

Dr. Graven shared that while Omicron appears to be mild and less likely to cause severe disease, it will still require some people to go to the hospital. “It appears that individuals who are vaccinated and boosted are very unlikely to get severely ill from Omicron,” he said. “However, only about 20 percent of Oregonians have received their vaccine booster. We can reduce the upcoming surge in hospitalizations by increasing the number of Oregonians who get vaccinated, get their booster if they’re already vaccinated, wear their mask in indoor public places, and avoid large gatherings.”

There’s still time to protect yourself and your loved ones from severe disease

Renee Edwards, M.D., M.B.A., OHSU Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, urged these same precautions to protect Oregon health care workers already strained and still treating patients for the more severe Delta variant. “These extremely dedicated professionals are not easily fazed,” Dr. Edwards said, “but after nearly two years on the front lines, they are justifiably worn out and may well feel defeated in the face of another wave of patients sick with COVID-19.”

Dr. Edwards emphasized the need to reduce the strain on Oregon’s health care system to ensure care for other patients who need hospital care, such as patients whose conditions have worsened due to delayed care during the pandemic, and patients who had to delay surgeries during COVID-19.

“Although there is much we don’t yet know about the Omicron variant, we do know that the Omicron variant can infect fully vaccinated individuals, especially those who have not yet received their booster shot,” Dr. Edwards said. “It is not too late to protect yourself and those you care about from becoming gravely ill, or even dying, from COVID-19. Dr Graven and other forecasters are showing us what is coming and now we must double down on following the measures we know will keep us as safe as possible.”

COVID-19 vaccination and boosters: The time to act is now

“Today I am calling on one million Oregonians to step up and get their booster dose by the end of January,” Governor Brown said. “I’ve directed OHA to get the vaccine supply and distribution capacity in place to support this goal. However, we will only reach it if everyone does their part.”

You can find first, second, third and booster doses at Oregon’s high-volume vaccination sites. You can also find other vaccine locations near you. Or contact your doctor’s office for a COVID-19 vaccination or booster.

OHA’s 5-point plan to confront the Omicron surge

OHA Director Patrick Allen shared Oregon’s Omicron Response Plan: OHA’s plan to protect against the Omicron variant and its impacts on vulnerable communities and Oregon’s health care system.

  1. Urge 1 million Oregonians to get boosters by the end of January and increase access to boosters by expanding high-capacity vaccination sites, resuming mobile vaccination clinics, and increasing vaccination clinic staffing.
  2. Focus boosters on people who are most vulnerable to becoming hospitalized if they catch the Omicron variant: Older adults, people in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, and communities of color
  3. Rapidly deliver new COVID-19 treatments, such as monoclonal antibody therapies and antiviral drugs, and expand needed testing.
  4. Support health care workers and hospitals in the face of the coming Omicron surge with increased staffing, and support local and regional coordination of hospital resources.
  5. Connect more people to boosters, treatments and testing.

To learn more, watch Governor Brown’s press conference below.

Dean E. Sidelinger, M.D., M.S.Ed., OHA health officer and state epidemiologist, also joined Governor Brown, Dr. Graven, Dr. Edwards and Director Allen to answer media questions.

40:22 – We haven’t had variants of high consequence. Might these come to Oregon?

42:56 – How can we tamp down the possibility of variants of high consequence?

45:09 – There is a lot of new uncertainty to account for. Are others doing state-level forecasts that you can hold OHSU’s up against?

47:27 – Are you committing to keeping schools open?

50:47 – What do we actually know about how effective the boosters are against Omicron?

52:23 – With a surge worse than Delta, are there any thoughts about increasing restrictions?

53:40 – The forecast, even with interventions we’re talking about today, is still going to exceed 2,000 hospitalizations. Is that correct? In previous surges, there were many other interventions. If the health care system is going to be swamped, why wouldn’t we do more such as increasing vaccinations, restrictions, etc.?

58:00 – A couple weeks ago, the forecast looked so much better. With Omicron, it’s so much worse. Can you talk about how quickly that changes and what that tells us about the variant?

1:01:21 – Do we have a forecast for deaths due to Omicron?

1:02:23 – Could you speak to the impact of an additional surge on hospital workers during this time?

1:05:49 – Do you plan to extend the vaccination mandate for state employees to include boosters?

1:07:13 – If Omicron variant is going to be less severe, will hospitalizations be decoupled from decisions made regarding mask mandates?

1:09:59 – You said earlier “Everything is on the table.” Are we looking at full shutdowns, restrictions on indoor dining? What would that look like?

1:13:52 – What data points or information do you have that caused the projection to basically double in the past 24 hours?