Eligible youth encouraged to get vaccinated against COVID-19

Today, eligibility to receive the COVID-19 vaccine opens to all Oregonians age 16 and over. Snake River Pediatrics’ Matt Berria, PhD, PA-C, said it is important that youth get vaccinated.

“Snake River Pediatrics strongly recommends eligible adolescents receive the safe and highly efficacious COVID-19 vaccine. Doing so not only protects them but also their families, friends, classmates, and teammates,” Berria said. “Receiving the vaccine goes a long way in protecting those that can’t protect themselves, such as younger siblings. It is a simple and effective way to show they care about those around them.”

Berria also said that once people are fully immunized, they no longer need to be tested or quarantined for exposure to COVID-19, can closely associate with other vaccinated individuals without wearing a mask or social distancing, and might even help others who are hesitant about the vaccine make an informed decision, “rather than relying on false and potentially harmful information propagated in part by social media.” 

In Malheur County, where the supply of COVID-19 vaccine now exceeds demand, adults should have no trouble getting vaccinated; however, there is a limited supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the only one approved for people ages 16-17.

People in this age group are encouraged to call Walgreens in Ontario and speak with someone in the pharmacy to get scheduled for a vaccine appointment. The number is 541-889-6288.

Snake River Pediatrics is expecting a shipment of Pfizer vaccine in early May. The Oregon Health Authority is working to expand availability of the Pfizer vaccine throughout the state.

For more information, visit the OHA’s Frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccine for 16- and 17-year-olds

Daily COVID-19 cases more than double, efforts to reach vulnerable communities fall short

On Friday, Governor Kate Brown and Oregon Health Authority held a news conference to give updates about COVID-19 in Oregon. They reported that efforts to create equitable access to vaccines have fallen short and that daily cases of COVID-19 have more than doubled in just over a month. Read OHA’s bulletin here.

 “The numbers are stark and clear,” OHA Director Patrick Allen said. “For too many people, race and income are predictors of whether you can access a COVID-19 vaccine – or not. Yesterday, I heard the leaders of organizations who serve the Latino/Latina community voice their legitimate frustration at the inequitable disparity in vaccination rates for the Latino community. I share their frustration. As a state, we can and need to do better.” 

According to State Health Officer and Epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger: 

  • Over the past two days, OHA has reported 1,576 new cases, the highest two-day total since early February. 
  • The largest increased illnesses in Oregon are in people in their 20s.  
  • The second biggest increase is in people in their 30s. 
  • According to the CDC, hospitals around the U.S. are seeing more people in their 30s and 40s who have been admitted with severe cases as the virus continues to mutate.

Dr. Sidelinger cited three stories of recent outbreaks that illustrate how COVID-19 is spreading throughout the state: 

  • A multi-night karaoke event led to 36 cases, three hospitalizations and one death.  
  • An indoor concert at a small music venue resulted in 15 cases.  
  • All 10 people who attended a backyard gathering fell ill.  


A recording of yesterday’s live-streamed press conference is available on YouTube. The video starts at the 31:45 mark.

A recording of a Spanish language translation is available on OHA’s Facebook page.

Free food, live radio broadcast and a visit from the Consul of Mexico in store for vaccine recipients

An 8-day vaccination event that begins tomorrow afternoon at the Malheur County Fairgrounds is shaping up to be a lively event, with confirmations this week from a few special guests.

Smokin’ Franny’s BBQ food truck will be on hand for the entirety of the event, offering their full menu of barbecue favorites, including brisket sandwiches, baby-back ribs and sides. A $5 food voucher to be used at the truck will be given to the first 50 vaccine recipients each weekday and the first 100 vaccine recipients on Saturday and Sunday. Recipients must be age 18 or older.

Consul Ricardo Gerardo Higuera from the Consulate of Mexico in Boise will visit the event at 5 p.m. on opening day and closing day, April 23. As consul, Gerardo-Higuera is committed to working vigorously in favor of the human rights of Mexican nationals and respecting the frame of the laws of the United States. In Oregon, he serves Malheur, Baker, Union and Wallowa counties.

On closing day, from 5-7 p.m., Spanish radio stations Radio Rancho – KDBI La Gran D 106.3 FM and KPDA  La Ponderosa 100.7 FM –  will offer a live broadcast from the event. We invite everyone to come out and get vaccinated, listen to some music, and enjoy the good food and festivities.

The drive-up event is hosted by Malheur County, the Oregon Health Authority, and FEMA. Hours are 4-8 p.m. on weekdays and 12-8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The Malheur County Fairgrounds is located at 795 N.W. 9th St in Ontario.

Warning Week: COVID-19 test positivity rate and cases are rising in Malheur County

“We urge you, for the sake of our business community and working families, to prioritize getting everyone in your household vaccinated who meets the conditions and recommendations of the CDC.”

Ontario City Manager Adam Brown

Malheur County’s COVID-19 cases and test positivity rates are on the rise, according to a weekly Risk Levels Summary released by the Governor’s Office this week. During the two-week period from March 28 to April 10, there were 24 new cases reported, for a case rate (number of cases per 100,000 people) of 74.9. The test positivity rate was 5.1%.

Both rates would qualify Malheur County, currently in the Lower Risk category, to move to Moderate Risk if they had occurred during the two weeks leading up to a Movement Week instead of a Warning Week, and if counties weren’t given a two-week caution period meant to keep those that moved down in risk level during the previous movement period from experiencing a yo-yo effect.

This week’s report shows an increase of 10 cases over the previous two-week period, from March 14-27, and a jump of almost 76% in the test positivity rate, which was previously 2.9%.

“These numbers are concerning, given the rise in cases throughout the country and the increase in the presence of variants in and around Oregon and Idaho,” Malheur County Health Department Director Sarah Poe said.

According to the state’s Vaccination Trends dashboard, Malheur County has the second-lowest vaccination rate in the state, with 2,276.9 people out of 10,000 having received at least one dose. Umatilla County has the lowest with 2,166.5, and Lincoln County the highest with 4,526.7.

If Malheur County’s case count continues to increase, a higher risk level and the associated risk-reduction measures, such as lower limits on capacity at businesses and activities, are not far off.

“As partners with Malheur County, the City of Ontario wants to see our businesses operate at their fullest capacity under the circumstances to maintain the economic health of our community. Vaccinations are proven to be one of the ways to keep case rates down. We urge you, for the sake of our business community and working families, to prioritize getting everyone in your household vaccinated who meets the conditions and recommendations of the CDC,” Ontario City Manager Adam Brown said.

A nationwide pause in the distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which began Tuesday following a joint statement by the CDC and FDA regarding their review of six cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot, is unlikely to create a shortage of vaccine in Malheur County where supply currently exceeds demand. Poe said there is enough Moderna vaccine available to proceed with an 8-day vaccine event that begins this Friday at the Malheur County Fairgrounds.

“It’s important to not exaggerate the very rare potential for risk that is being examined with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” Poe said. “The pause in distribution of Johnson & Johnson should give us more confidence in the safety of the vaccines that are available. The risk of severe illness from COVID-19 is still very real and preventable with vaccine,” Poe said.

Malheur County pauses use of Johnson & Johnson vaccine in accordance with state and federal guidance

8-day vaccine event with OHA/FEMA still on track to start this Friday

The use of Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose COVID-19 vaccine is on hold in Malheur County pending review by the FDA and CDC. Both federal entities, along with the Oregon Health Authority, called for that pause this morning citing six cases out of 6.85 million doses of a rare and severe type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) that developed in women ranging in age from 18 to 48 within two weeks of being vaccinated. At this time, it is unknown if the blood clots are related to the vaccine.

 “CDC will convene a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) on Wednesday to further review these cases and assess their potential significance. FDA will review that analysis as it also investigates these cases. Until that process is complete, we are recommending a pause in the use of this vaccine out of an abundance of caution,” a joint statement by the CDC and FDA reads.

Of the 11,668 COVID-19 vaccine doses administered to Malheur County residents, 1,085 were Johnson & Johnson – less than 10%. The large majority of vaccines have been Moderna, according to the OHA’s Vaccination Trends Dashboard.

The Malheur County Health Department will move forward with plans to team up with the OHA and FEMA on an 8-day COVID-19 vaccine event that begins this Friday at 4 p.m. at the Malheur County Fairgrounds. “We have plenty of Moderna vaccine available to us for this event,” MCHD Director Sarah Poe said. “We are close to 100 COVID-19-related deaths between Malheur County and neighboring Payette County. We are prioritizing the risks associated with COVID-19 and we know that our best tool in the fight against it is vaccination.”

Poe said the nationwide pause is a good indication that the vaccine monitoring system works. “This should give us all even more confidence in the rigorous safety protocols being followed in development and use of COVID-19 vaccines.”

MCHD Health Officer and Medical Director Sarah Laiosa, DO, said the risks associated with being infected with COVID-19 far outweigh the risk that these cases might represent, should it be determined that they are related to the vaccine. “The risk of clotting from COVID-19 is 16.5%. Comparatively, that’s significant. We trust in the process of ensuring that the vaccines available in the U.S. are safe, and we trust in the safety of the vaccines that are currently in use and will be made available for the upcoming event,” she said.

The FDA and CDC recommend that “People who have received the J&J vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider.” They will provide additional information and answer questions later today at a media briefing. A recording of that media call will be available on the FDA’s YouTube channel.

Eligible people under age 18 urged to get Pfizer vaccine while local supply lasts

The COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech is currently the only vaccine available to people age 16 and 17, and the supply is quickly dwindling. The Malheur County Health Department last week reached out to local school officials to encourage them to share information about availability of the vaccine with their students.

Currently, the Pfizer vaccine is available only at Walgreens in Ontario. At last count, the supply was about 180 total doses, enough to fully vaccinate 90 people. MCHD Director Sarah Poe said it’s a priority to get as many 16- and 17-year-olds vaccinated there as possible, while there are several other providers in the county with vaccine for people who are 18 and older.

“When we see a surge of illness in young people, it inevitably ripples out. Cases of COVID-19 in our youth impacts our older residents. Vaccinating this population will have significant benefits to classrooms, sports and other extracurricular activities, and the community,” Poe said.

Starting April 19, all Oregonians age 16+ will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. Currently, 16- and 17-year-olds are eligible if they:

  • Have an underlying health condition from the CDC list, available on page 3 in English and Spanish
  • Live in multi-generational housing of 3 or more generations
  • Provide health care or childcare to anyone, even unpaid
  • Have a frontline job (even in summers only), including agriculture and food processing

To get a Pfizer vaccine at Walgreens, call the store at 541-889-6288 and speak to someone in the pharmacy. Do not follow the prompts for the vaccine scheduler. It is currently not scheduling appointments, but pharmacy staff will assist people in getting scheduled. The online scheduler is expected to be up later this week. Here is the link.

Walgreens and Saint Alphonsus Medical Center in Ontario are the only two vaccine providers in Malheur County that have received the Pfizer vaccine. Due to the large size of a single tray – 975 doses – and the availability of other vaccines, Pfizer may not be immediately available in Malheur County once the current supply is diminished.

Have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine? You don’t want to miss this Zoom event

Anyone in Eastern Oregon who has questions about the COVID-19 vaccine is invited to attend any of three online COVID-19 Vaccine Community Workshops scheduled later this month. Boost Oregon, a trusted voice in vaccination education, has partnered with the Eastern Oregon Coordinated Care Organization to offer these free Zoom-based meetings in both English and Spanish.

Attendees will learn how COVID-19 vaccines work and have an opportunity to ask questions of the presenters.

Spanish Speakers’ Workshop with Dr. Rima Chamie
Wednesday, April 28, 7-8 p.m. MDT
REGISTER HERE

English Speakers’ Workshop Option 1 with Dr. Ryan Hassan
Thursday, April 29, 7-8 p.m. MDT
REGISTER HERE

English Speakers’ Workshop Option 2 with Dr. Rima Chamie
Friday, April 30, 1-2 p.m. MDT
REGISTER HERE

Boost Oregon has also made informative COVID-19 Fact Sheets available in English and Spanish.

Walk-Thru Wednesday marks first year in Malheur County

Approaching its first year in the community this month, the Malheur County Health Department’s Walk-Thru Wednesday program is going strong. An essential service that was launched just after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020, Walk-Thru Wednesday is a PRIME Peer program aimed at providing peer-based harm reduction support for people who use drugs.

“The purpose of Walk-Thru Wednesday is to meet people where they’re at,” MCHD Certified Recovery Mentor Hannah Roy said. Every Wednesday from 12-3 p.m., that place is Mallard Grocery in Ontario where Roy and other peers offer safer-use supplies and syringes, hygiene and wound care kits, safe sex supplies, educational materials, information about hepatitis and HIV testing and links to treatment when needed, and referral to other support programs, including Oregon Health Plan application assistance, WIC, family planning, home visiting, and more.

Walk-Thru Wednesday also offers Naloxone, a life-saving medication used to reverse opioid overdose. “We want Naloxone in the hands of people who use or who know someone who does. It’s free and we’ll teach people how to use it,” Roy said.

Roy is one of three MCHD employees who are trained and certified through the state’s PRIME Peer program to help prevent overdose and injection-related infections and to provide resources and support. The health department also employs two peer support specialists whose primary role is to provide harm-reduction counseling and practical support. In addition to training, peers have lived experience. “We’ve gone through recovery in this area and we know how hard it is. We recognize the barriers,” Roy said.

PRIME is an acronym that stands for Peer Recovery Initiated in Medical Establishments. The program is geared toward people who are currently using drugs and are present in medical settings. The Peer part of the program name represents the peer support that takes place through SMART Recovery meetings and in 1-to-1 settings. SMART is an acronym for Self-Management and Recovery Training.

SMART Recovery meetings are open to the public and free to attend. There is no need to register; anyone can simply drop in. To find a local meeting, search online for “SMART Recovery meetings near me,” or visit SMART Recovery® Local Meetings (smartrecoverytest.org) There are two meetings available in Ontario each week:

  • Thursdays, 3-4 p.m. in person at the MCHD office, located at 1108 S.W. 4th St.
  • Saturdays, 12-1 p.m. via Zoom.

People can also receive support by calling the Health Department at 541-889-7279 or directly to the Peer Dispatch Line at 541-709-8539 during regular business hours. If there is no answer, leave a message. You will receive a response within 24 hours. For after-hours public health reporting, please call Malheur County Dispatch at 541-473-5125. For emergencies, call 911.

Eight-day vaccine event begins April 16 in Ontario

Malheur County, in collaboration with Oregon Health Authority and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is hosting a COVID-19 vaccine clinic April 16-23 at the Malheur County Fairgrounds, located at 795 N.W. 9th St. in Ontario. The event will distribute up to 2,000 doses of vaccine over eight days. The event was scheduled to provide people in Malheur County with convenient opportunities for vaccination.

The vaccine is free and health insurance is not required, but those who have insurance are asked to bring their insurance card with them. Everyone who is age 18+ can be vaccinated at this event, regardless of immigration status. No one will be asked to provide proof of identification or documentation.

Participants will receive the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the first dose of Moderna and be scheduled for a second dose.

The event will be held on the following dates. No appointment is necessary, but vaccinations will depend on supply for that day.

  • Friday, April 16, 4-8 p.m.
  • Saturday, April 17, 12-8 p.m.
  • Sunday, April 18, 12-8 p.m.
  • Monday, April 19, 4-8 p.m.
  • Tuesday, April 20, 4-8 p.m.
  • Wednesday, April 21, 4-8 p.m.
  • Thursday, April 22, 4-8 p.m.
  • Friday, April 23, 4-8 p.m.

Currently, Pfizer is the only vaccine available to people age 16-17 and will not be available at this vaccine event. For information on getting a Pfizer vaccine, or to learn more about this vaccination event, call the Malheur County Health Department at 541-889-7279.

Malheur County will move to Lower Risk this Friday

Beginning this Friday, Malheur County’s risk level will go from Moderate to Lower based on COVID-19 case data reported over the two-week period from March 21 to April 3. A Risk Level Metrics report from the Oregon Health Authority shows that there were 15 cases and a case rate (number of cases per 100,000 people) of 46.8. The test positivity rate was 2.9%.

Risk levels are based on two indicators – new case counts and test positivity rate. The new Lower level allows for some loosening of local restrictions:

  • Eating and drinking establishments still not to exceed 50% capacity, but there is no maximum on number of people. Outdoor dining is allowed with a capacity of 300 people maximum. Indoor and outdoor seating: 8 people per table maximum. Closing time is 12:00 a.m.
  • Faith institutions, funeral homes, mortuaries, and cemeteries to increase maximum occupancy to 75% with no maximum on number of people. Outdoor capacity: 300 people maximum (Capacity limits for faith institutions are recommended only.)
  • Indoor entertainment establishments, such as aquariums, theaters, arenas, concert halls, indoor gardens, museums, and other entertainment activities to remain at 50% maximum occupancy but there is no maximum on number of people. Closing time is 12:00 a.m.
  • Indoor recreation and fitness, including gyms, K-12 sports, collegiate sports, fitness organizations, recreational sports, and pools to remain at 50% occupancy but there is no maximum on number of people. Indoor full-contact sports are still prohibited.
  • Offices to offer limited office work in person.
  • Outdoor entertainment establishments, including zoos, gardens, aquariums, outdoor theaters, and stadiums to increase to maximum 50% occupancy. Closing time is 12:00 a.m.
  • Outdoor recreation and fitness, including gyms, fitness organizations, K-12 sports, collegiate sports, recreational sports, pools, and parks to increase to maximum50% occupancy. Outdoor full-contact sports are still allowed.
  • Social and at-home gathering size (indoor) to increase to a maximum of 10 people. Recommended limit of 4 households.
  • Social and at-home gathering size (outdoor) to increase to a maximum of 12 people with no recommended limit on number of households.

“We recognize all the sacrifices it has taken to get us this far, and we appreciate everyone’s willingness to work together. Please continue to follow guidance so we can keep cases low and Malheur County businesses open,” said Craig Geddes, Malheur County’s Director of Environmental Health.

In addition to risk level changes, Governor Kate Brown announced today that Oregon is adding a statewide hospitalization metric for moving to Extreme Risk. “COVID-19 hospitalizations are a key indicator of severe illness in Oregon communities. As vaccine distribution increases, case counts and percent positivity will not be adequate indicators on their own for measuring the threat COVID-19 poses to public health,” according to today’s press release.

For more detailed information on risk levels and associated guidance for counties, visit Living with COVID-19.

A full list of this week’s county risk categories is available here.