When you look at what has happened in our community over the last two weeks, it’s easy to feel frustrated.
Based on the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Deschutes County has once again moved into “high risk” territory, an Oregon Health Authority designation that triggers certain precautions like limiting capacity in restaurants. The change was based on the two-week period from March 21 through April 3, when the county reported 139.9 cases per 100,000 people.
Here at St. Charles, hospitalizations are also slowly ticking up. About two weeks ago, we had just three people in the hospital with COVID-19. Today, we have 13.
So many of us are heeding the “wash, mask and distance” mantra and have even been vaccinated. We are tired and we just want to know, “when does this end?”
I’m not sure anyone can reliably predict that, but I do want to share with you some encouraging news: while we are seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases, we are also seeing about 20 percent fewer hospitalizations than we’d expect due to the virus.
We think our vaccination campaign is starting to work.
As of today, almost 91,000 people have been vaccinated in Central Oregon, including more than 82% of our residents who are 80 and older. This is significant because in the early days of the pandemic, this group represented a disproportionate number of hospitalizations and deaths.
While this is certainly a move in the right direction, we must not let up on our efforts to get ourselves, family, friends and neighbors vaccinated. To achieve what we call “herd immunity,” we need at least 70% of our community to get vaccinated.
The good news is starting next week, it becomes easier and more straightforward than ever to schedule your appointment. On Monday, April 19, everyone in Oregon who is 16 and older is eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine. There are no more complicated eligibility rules to decipher. If you’re 16 and older, it’s your turn. Please, sign up. To do that, go to centraloregoncovidvaccine.com. If you don’t have access to the internet, call 541-699-5109, but be prepared to wait, as call volumes are sometimes high.
The latest on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine
On the topic of COVID-19 vaccines, I also want to share with you what I know about the one made by Johnson & Johnson.
If you haven’t been following the news, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) jointly announced that out of an abundance of caution, they are pausing the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine. As a result, the community vaccination clinic at the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center has stopped offering it.
In a joint media call Tuesday, officials from the agencies said they made the decision after six cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot occurred in women between the ages of 18 and 48 who also had low levels of platelets in their blood. One of the six women died and another is in critical condition.
Officials recommended the pause to allow them time to work together to understand these events and to provide more information to health care providers and vaccine recipients.
“These events appear to be extremely rare,” said Janet Woodcock, the acting FDA commissioner. “However, COVID-19 vaccine safety is a top priority of the federal government, and we take all reports of adverse events following vaccination very seriously.”
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)—an independent scientific expert committee that reviews immunization matters—convened Wednesday to review data on these initial cases but stopped short of deciding whether to resume use of the vaccine, citing the need for more information. The committee plans to meet again sometime within the next 10 days.
So, what do you do if you’ve already received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?
For those of you who received the vaccine within the last two weeks, call your health care provider if you experience severe headaches, abdominal or leg pain and shortness of breath. These symptoms are different from the mild symptoms many people experience within a couple days of receiving the vaccine.
FDA and CDC officials have also stressed they are not seeing the same blood-clotting issue with the other two vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna. So, if you’ve already scheduled your appointment for a vaccine, we strongly encourage you to keep it.
Widespread vaccination is still our best hope to end this pandemic.