End HIV in Oregon

Imagine an Oregon where…
We end new HIV infections.
Everyone with HIV is healthy.
Can you imagine it? 

End HIV Oregon. 

Testing is easy.

Everyone has an HIV status and all Oregonians need to know theirs. It’s as easy as ever to get tested for HIV. Confidential HIV testing is available throughout Oregon. There are rapid tests which give results within 20 minutes, including home HIV test kits that can be purchased in drug stores and pharmacies. If you live in Oregon and haven’t been tested for HIV in the past year, you may qualify for a free at-home rapid HIV test. You can also ask your doctor for a confidential HIV test as part of a routine medical visit. Most insurance plans cover the cost of HIV testing. Free, confidential testing is offered at the Malheur County Health Department. Call 541-889-7279 to schedule an appointment.

HIV testing is recommended for everyone at least once in their life. Six out of every 10 Oregonians have never been tested for HIV, and Oregon sees 210-230 new infections every year. In 2020 and 2021, new HIV cases nearly quadrupled in Eastern Oregon.

Getting tested is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Order a free at-home HIV test kit here.

Order free condoms here.

Contact the Malheur County Health Department for more information, for a free, confidential HIV test, or for free condoms.

More information about ending HIV in Oregon can be found here.

Troubleshooting the My Electronic Vaccine Card

We’re hearing that some people have attempted to access the My Electronic Vaccine Card, but have been unable to do so.

If you input your information, and the website tells you your information cannot be found, there are a few things you can do.

  • Only vaccinations given in Oregon are in the system. If you received your vaccination in another state, or from federal agencies such as the Department of Defense or Department of Veterans Affairs, it will not show up in the Oregon system. Please contact the other state, or agency to see whether electronic vaccine cards are available.
  • Your information must match what is in Oregon’s vaccination system. Your vaccination card may not be found if the information you enter doesn’t match exactly to the system. The vaccination system can’t accept any special characters. For example, the system can’t accept accents or umlauts. If your name includes special characters, leave them out. You can try to request again with a different email or mobile number. You can also contact your vaccination provider to make sure they sent your correct information to the Oregon vaccination system.
  • In some cases, people did not include their phone number when filling out the vaccine paperwork. If that is the case, you will not be able to access the electronic vaccine card.

If you have been unable to access your electronic record, please call the Immunization Help Desk at 800-980-9431 for assistance. You may also contact the provider from which you received your vaccination and ask them for assistance.

Information sessions set to learn about COVID-19 treatments

Today, April 29, 2022, and again May 4, the Oregon Health Authority will host online learning sessions about treatments for people who have tested positive for COVID-19. Today’s session, slated for 1 p.m. Mountain Time, is in Spanish. The May 4 session, also at 1 p.m. Mountain Time, is in English.

These sessions are for anyone in the public, including physicians and caregivers, to ask questions and learn more about the treatments, where to get them, what they cost and more.

ASL interpreters will be available for both sessions.

Walk in vaccine clinics on Wednesdays

Every Wednesday, the Malheur County Health Department is hosting a walk-in vaccine clinic, where you’ll be able to receive first or second booster doses of any brand of COVID-19 vaccines, as well as regular doses, if desired.

Additionally, most of the adult vaccines will be available, as are all of the childhood vaccines.

Second booster doses are now available for:

  • People who are over 18 and received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine for their primary and booster doses may receive either Pfizer or Moderna as a second booster.
  • People age 50 and older may receive either a Pfizer or Moderna booster.
  • Immunocompromised people age 12-17 may receive a Pfizer booster.
  • Immunocompromised people age 18 and older may receive either a Pfizer or a Moderna booster.

COVID-19 vaccines and boosters continue to offer protection against severe illness and death, and they reduce a person’s risk of becoming ill with COVID-19.

Voluntary My Electronic Vaccine Card available now

Oregon’s My Electronic Vaccine Card gives you an electronic copy of COVID-19 vaccinations you’ve received in Oregon. It’s the same information on your paper vaccine card, but easier to carry with you to airports, concerts and the like. Once you sign up, simply download the QR code to your phone.

You are not required to get an electronic vaccine card. Oregon has no plans to make it mandatory. You choose who you share your electronic vaccine card with. Your electronic vaccine card is NOT shared with other government agencies and does not include your address, phone number, social security number or immigration status.

You can retrieve your electronic vaccine card by either phone or email, depending on what your immunization provider sent to Oregon’s Registry. TIP: Try your mobile phone first. Most records have a phone number attached, so if you try your email address and your record isn’t found, try your phone number.

To learn more and to register, visit myelectronicvaccinecard.oregon.gov.

Why it’s important to be vaccinated and boosted even though you can still get COVID-19 

If you can still get COVID-19 after vaccination, what’s the point of getting vaccinated?  

This is a common question, and it has a simple answer. Like most preventive measures, the COVID-19 vaccines can’t provide absolute protection. However, these vaccines clearly reduce the risk of getting infected, and most importantly, they are extremely effective at reducing the risk of severe illness and death if you do get infected.  

infographic defining the terms Antibodies, Memory B-cells and T-cells.

The two mRNA COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) accomplish this by introducing your immune system to the spike protein from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, allowing you to build up antibodies against it. When somebody has enough antibodies, they may be able to immediately fight off the virus and prevent infection. As immunity wanes the number of antibodies decline, and that’s when our memory B- and T-cells take action. 

Those memory B- and T-cells immediately recognize the virus and quickly build more antibodies. This process may be too slow to prevent infection. But it helps explain why people who are vaccinated against COVID-19 experience not only lower rates of infection, but significantly lower rates of hospitalization and death compared to those who aren’t vaccinated. Even as immunity wanes and new variants mutate to evade immunity (leading to more breakthrough cases), the vaccines remain impressively effective. 

“When you are vaccinated, you have a significantly lower risk of getting sick with COVID-19, and a much lower risk of severe illness and death,” said Dr. Tom Jeanne, deputy state health officer and deputy state epidemiologist.  

statistics showing a variety of CDC data about being vaccinated against COVID 19 (and boosted) and the resulting likelihood of contracting COVID-19, being hospitalized with COVID-19 and dying from COVID-19.

*Test positive and death rates 
**Hospitalization rates 

COVID-19 is a new disease, and we are still learning what the long-term consequences of infection may be. Recent large-scale studies including millions of United States veterans indicate there may be links between COVID-19 and diabetescardiovascular diseases and strokes. Another study showed a link between COVID-19 and cognitive decline

Diabetes: Veterans who had COVID-19 were about 40% more likely to develop diabetes, mostly type 2, within 12 months after infection compared to people in the control group, or about 13 more people per 1,000 studied. The risk increased based on the severity of the infection, but non-hospitalized veterans with COVID-19 showed higher rates of diabetes than the control group as well.  

graphic image of a human heart surrounded by COVID-19 virus particles

Cardiovascular diseases: Veterans who had COVID-19 had increased risk of stroke and cardiovascular diseases, including heart attack, heart failure, and heart rhythm problems, between 30 days and 12 months after infection. The risks were higher for people without “any cardiovascular disease before exposure to COVID-19, providing evidence that these risks might manifest even in people at low risk of cardiovascular disease.” 

Cognitive Decline: A recent study from the United Kingdom scanned the brains of 785 participants twice.  At the time of the first scan, none of the participants had any known history of COVID-19 infection, and they were asked to perform some cognitive exercises as a baseline. In the subsequent months, 401 of the participants tested positive for COVID-19. The entire group  underwent second brain scans approximately five months after the positive diagnoses. The results showed that those who  tested positive for COVID-19 suffered a significant, harmful impact in the form of brain tissue loss and damage and other indicators of potential cognitive decline. Additionally, when the entire group repeated the cognitive exercises, the COVID-positive test subjects did not perform as well as they did initially, while the COVID-free test subjects maintained their previous performance level.  

It will be years before we know the true toll of COVID-19 and its long-term effects. How much the vaccines will prevent any long-term complications is also not yet fully understood.  

But we do know two things:  

1. The best way to prevent COVID-19-related complications is to not be infected with COVID-19. 
2. In addition to helping prevent infection, vaccinations greatly reduce the risk of severe COVID-19 illness, including hospitalizations, and are therefore likely to reduce the risk of long-term complications. 

“Vaccination is the single best thing you can do to reduce the risk of severe illness or long COVID,” Dr. Jeanne said. 

Where to get vaccinated

Get vaccinated or boosted any Wednesday at the Malheur County Health Department’s walk-in vaccine clinic between 9 a.m. and noon, and 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. No appointment is needed. Additionally, you may schedule appointments with most retail pharmacies at the pharmacy website, or contact your primary care physician for vaccine information.

Information provided by the Oregon Health Authority.

Answers to questions about COVID-19 treatments

Dr. Andrea Lara, MD, MPH, Oregon Health Authority health advisor, answered today’s questions. We’ll continue to answer your questions on COVID-19 topics in upcoming newsletters. 

Q: Why does my internist say she can’t give me a prescription for Paxlovid for travel?
A:
“The available COVID-19 treatments are for treating active infections, not for preventing them. Paxlovid is not a preventative medication you can take with you when you travel. You must be infected by the COVID-19 virus and have a positive COVID-19 test to receive the medication.”

Q: President Biden announced the Test-to-Treat program in his State of the Union message. Is it set up and working? What is the criteria for being prescribed Paxlovid or Molnupirvir?
A:
“The Test-to-Treat (T2T) program is up and working. You can find T2T locations on the federal locator site. Just enter your zip code and it will show you participating locations. To make an appointment at any of the locations, call the number listed on the site. To receive a COVID-19 oral antiviral (Paxlovid or Molnupiravir), you have to test positive for COVID-19 and be at risk of developing severe COVID-19 illness. Certain medical conditions or your age could qualify you to receive treatment. At the T2T location, you will be evaluated by a health care provider. See a list of medical conditions here that might qualify you to receive treatment.”

*For people who do not have insurance, there may be a fee associated with the T2T service.

How to prepare for future waves of COVID-19

The initial Omicron surge has receded significantly. More people have some level of protection against COVID-19, from vaccination or following recovery from a recent infection, than at any time in the past two years. But the pandemic has not ended, and it‘s difficult to predict how COVID-19 will affect our lives in the future. But we can do our best to prepare for what may come, much like we prepare for storms or wildfires. There are simple steps we can take to better protect ourselves and our family in the event of a future COVID-19 surge, times of high community spread or a when someone gets sick with COVID-19.   

Cases are relatively low now compared to the Delta and Omicron surges. We are seeing a slight rise in cases due to the BA.2 Omicron subvariant recently but it “is not anticipated to have much of an impact on hospitalizations,” said Dean Sidelinger, M.D., M.S.Ed., health officer and state epidemiologist. Sidelinger is optimistic Oregon will not experience high community spread this summer once we get past BA.2, but it’s impossible to predict what future variants are on the horizon.  We also do not know how long immunity gained from vaccinations or infections during Omicron will last.  

Now is the time to develop a plan. Keep high-quality masks, COVID-19 tests and a thermometer in your home.  The best way to be prepared for what comes next is to be up to date on your vaccinations
 
People who are immunocompromised, 50 years of age and older or received both a primary and booster dose of Johnson & Johnson are now eligible for a second booster dose of an mRNA vaccine four months after their first booster dose. “The second booster dose is most important for people who are furthest out from their last vaccine, those who are older and those more at risk for serious conditions,” said Sidelinger. People who have questions should contact their health care provider or call 211 if you do not have a health care provider. 

Know your risk and be prepared to take additional precautions: If you or someone you live with or care for are at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19,  you may make different decisions or take additional precautions, such as wearing a well-fitting mask around others, even during this time of lower community spread. 
 
Keep an eye on community spread: “You do not need to be fixated on daily numbers, but be aware of how much COVID-19 there is in your community, as well as in locations you are traveling to,” Sidelinger said. “We should all be prepared to take additional precautions, such as wearing a well-fitting mask around others,  if cases increase or a more severe variant arrives, and now is the time to think about what that entails.”  

Keep high-quality masks at home: Even if you are not currently wearing a mask you should have well-fitting masks available so you are prepared “if the situation changes or you find yourself in a situation where you feel more comfortable wearing a mask,” said Sidelinger.  

Keep COVID-19 tests at home: Be prepared to test yourself or those in your household when sick. “If you are someone who is an older adult or you are someone who has chronic conditions who is at higher risk for complications then think about how you are going to access testing if you get sick,” Sidelinger said.  “If you test positive and are eligible for COVID medication then how will you access that medication?”  

Every home in the United States is eligible to receive two sets of four free at-home testing kits.  
 
Have a plan if you or someone in your home tests positiveMany of us already have experience with this over the past two and a half years. Think about what you will do now in the event you or someone in your home needs to stay away from others and isolate. 

  • Are you able to stay in a separate part of your house from the rest of your family? 
  • If you are sick, if you are the caretaker of someone, whether a child or older adult, is someone available to help care for them while you are sick and in isolation?  
  • If your child gets sick and is sent home from school or childcare, or for some reason school or childcare cannot operate because of case numbers, do you have a plan to care for your child? 
  • If you live in a multi-generational household or with someone who is vulnerable to severe illness, do you know how you will keep everyone protected? Check out this chart for more tips. 

If you’re at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19, have a conversation with your health care provider now: Connect with your health care provider and discuss if you are eligible for early treatment  in the event you become infected with COVID-19 and what the process will be like. You may also be a candidate for the COVID-19 prevention medication Evusheld if you are unable to be vaccinated. 
 
If you do not have a health care provider, contact a local community health center or call 211. “Establishing that connection now is important,” Sidelinger said. 

Seek routine check-ups, treatment or other preventive care, including vaccinations, you may have delayed during the pandemic: If you have avoided or delayed getting health care over the past two years due to fears of catching COVID-19, now is the time to make an appointment. Early identification and treatment of diseases including cancer, heart disease and diabetes is critical in effectively treating these ailments. 

Treatments are available for COVID-19

While we currently have highly effective vaccines that protect against the virus that causes COVID-19, medical research continues to identify effective treatments.

There are several treatments being used for COVID-19. They are for different kinds of people facing different risks, and they are in extremely short supply around the country. There are doses available in Malheur County, so if you test positive, and want the treatment, contact your health care provider right away. Test-to-treat locations, in which a person can get tested and treated immediately, can be found here.

If you get sick with COVID-19, contact your health care provider or 211 to see if you’re eligible for COVID-19 treatment. Please don’t go to the emergency room to seek these treatments.

To learn more about COVID-19 treatments, visit this website.

Yes means test

2019 was another record year for STIs (sexually transmitted infections). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rates of reported STIs rose for the sixth straight year, and they continue to rise today. Young people continue to endure a big share of the STI burden. About half of the 20 million cases of STIs each year are in people ages 15-25.

Chlamydia is the STI most commonly reported to CDC—about 1.8 million cases in 2019, a 19% rate increase since 2015. Young women ages 15-24 account for nearly half of these cases. Yet, chlamydia and gonorrhea frequently have no symptoms. Without diagnosis and treatment, they can cause serious complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility. Given the potential health problems, CDC recommends annual testing for sexually active women under 25.

Yes Means Test, a campaign from the American Sexual Health Association, addresses the need for testing. The group aims to reduce the stigma around STI tests. YES Means YES has become a sexual empowerment movement. It’s about the right to make your own choices about sex—and have those choices respected. The Yes Means TEST campaign aligns with that movement, empowering people who say “yes” to sex with an understanding of the rights and responsibilities that choice carries. YES means TEST helps steer the conversation: “Yes” to sex, means “Yes” to getting tested.

Call the Malheur County Health Department to schedule your test. 541-889-7279.