News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Oregon health officials urge vaccination

With the new year, Oregon health officials are asking people to resolve in 2024 to get vaccinated against respiratory viruses that are on the rise in the state.

Dean Sidelinger, M.D., M.S.Ed., health officer, and state epidemiologist at OHA, says vaccination remains the best way for Oregonians to protect themselves against COVID-19, influenza (flu), and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) — and it’s not too late to get any of the vaccines.

“While some resolutions require making healthy changes for the rest of your life, we’re asking you to resolve to make an appointment for a vaccination,” Sidelinger said. “We’re not asking you to change your behavior for the year. We’re asking you to change your risk of getting sick.”

The renewed push for vaccinations comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published the latest edition of its Morbidity and Mortality Week Report (MMWR) on fall 2023 respiratory virus vaccination coverage among adults. The report includes national and jurisdiction-specific estimates for influenza, COVID-19, and RSV vaccination coverage among adults 18 and older from the National Immunization Survey-Adult COVID Module.

According to the report, 25 percent of eligible Oregon adults have received the 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccine, 40.8 percent have received the influenza vaccine, and 20.3 percent have received the RSV vaccine. Oregon ranks ninth in the nation for COVID-19 vaccine coverage; 35th for flu vaccine coverage; and 16th for RSV vaccine coverage.

Supply is not a problem for most of the vaccines, Sidelinger says. COVID-19 and influenza vaccines are readily available in Oregon, as are the new RSV vaccines for older adults and pregnant people. The RSV antibody immunization for children is still in limited supply across the country and in Oregon, though some doses are available for newborns and prioritized high-risk babies – parents should talk to their health care providers.

It can take a couple weeks for the body to ramp up its immune response following vaccination, but Sidelinger says antibody levels start rising within days of getting a shot and will offer some protection. He said people can think of getting vaccinated as a gift for themselves and loved ones, or as a New Year’s resolution.

“As we make plans to gather with friends and family members over the coming weeks, it’s a good time to think about who we’ll be spending time with,” Sidelinger said. “Consider people at higher risk for severe illness, such as young children, older adults, and those with chronic conditions or who are immunocompromised, and what we can do to keep them safe.”

That includes staying home if sick, regularly washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, cleaning frequently touched surfaces, and wearing a well-fitting mask, in addition to getting vaccinated.

While COVID-19 community transmission has remained stable this respiratory season – the average percentage of reported positive COVID-19 tests has hovered just above 9 percent since the start of November — community transmission of both influenza and RSV has steadily increased. Percent positivity of influenza tests has increased from 1 percent on November 2 to 6.5 percent as of December 16. For RSV tests, percent positivity has increased from 3.6 percent to 11.5 percent during that same period.

According to health officials, population-level immunity from vaccination and previous infection is leading to decreasing severity of COVID-19 infections over time. CDC forecasting predicts a plateau in COVID-19-associated hospitalizations in Oregon through early January.

Centers for Disease Control forecasting also predicts a steady increase in influenza-associated hospitalizations in Oregon through early January.

On November 11, Oregon met criteria to formally declare RSV season onset, which the CDC defines as the first of two consecutive weeks during which the percentage of specimens testing positive for RSV antigen is at or above 10 percent or the percentage of specimens testing positive for RSV by PCR is at or above 3 percent, whichever occurs first. For influenza, a 5 percent test positivity rate is considered a threshold for significant influenza circulation.

People can get the vaccines by contacting their health plan, health care provider, county public health clinic, or federally qualified health center (FQHC). They can also search for a clinic by ZIP code by visiting http://www.vaccinefinder.org, or by calling 211 or visiting http://www.211info.org.

 

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