What’s the best way to build immunity against COVID-19?

Some people may be wondering if getting a COVID-19 vaccine is as effective at building immunity as getting infected by the virus. The answer is that the body will build immunity to COVID-19 in a different way with the vaccine than through infection.

However, infection has the potential to lead to serious symptoms, which may prove to be deadly. Natural immunity, which is gained from having an infection, may not even last very long. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), natural immunity also varies from person to person and there is real potential for re-infection.    

Vaccination is the best tool we have to help us end the COVID-19 pandemic in Oregon and across the globe. The mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna give our cells instructions for how to make a harmless protein that is unique to the virus. Our bodies recognize that the protein should not be there and build T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes that will remember how to fight the virus that causes COVID-19 if we are infected in the future.

By getting vaccinated, wearing masks, washing our hands, staying physically distant and avoiding large indoor gatherings, we can help stop the spread of COVID-19. If enough of us get vaccinated, we can achieve community immunity and the virus will not spread so quickly.  

Learn more at Oregon Health Authority’s COVID-19 Vaccine page in English or Spanish.

MCHD Will Begin Administering COVID-19 Vaccines on Wednesday

The Malheur County Health Department and Incident Command System team will begin administering the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to people in the prioritized 1A group on Wednesday, Jan. 6. Those who are scheduled to receive the vaccine will spend about an hour at their appointment completing paperwork, receiving the injection, enrolling in the optional v-safe smartphone-based health checker, and being monitored for potential side effects.

Wednesday’s vaccine POD, or point of distribution, will accommodate roughly 110 first-dose recipients who will be scheduled to return for their second dose 28 days later. The Moderna vaccine is one of two COVID-19 vaccines being used under an Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The other is manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech. Both vaccines are in limited supply.

“We are working with our healthcare partners in the community to administer vaccine to as many people as we can so that we can achieve widespread vaccination as quickly as possible,” Malheur County Health Department Director Sarah Poe said. “If you are a healthcare worker, we want to make sure the vaccine is available to you. If you have not received a vaccine, call our office and get scheduled, 541-889-7279. Our goal is to host a vaccine POD every week, beginning this week, to administer what we have.” Poe said that as long as MCHD has the capacity to administer it, any vaccine received will go out into the community with prioritization based on guidance from the Oregon Health Authority.

“We know that guidance could shift as the state’s new COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee begins assessing and making recommendations. We have to be flexible and do everything we can to facilitate the process,” Poe said. Oregon’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee is made up of community representatives that will work with the Oregon Health Authority to determine who should be prioritized for future phases of vaccine distribution. As these plans are finalized, they will be communicated to the public.

OHA expands community-based education, outreach campaign

Masks mean love.jpg

Oregon Health Authority has expanded its multilingual Safe + Strong education and outreach campaign with a new theme and materials to help communities find simple, culturally specific information on safely connecting with family and friends this winter. Press release here.

Led by the theme “Love Finds a Way,” new campaign materials and resources available in 12 languages provide fresh public health recommendations on preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“Oregonians continue to show their resilience through this pandemic by finding new ways to stay connected while physically apart,” said Oregon Public Health Director Rachael Banks. “Whether it is wearing a mask when around anyone you don’t live with — including close friends and relatives — or keeping our social groups small, love, and a good plan, will keep us strong.”

Ensenemos nuestro amor.jpg

Since launching in April with the support of Brink Communications, the campaign website has been a trusted place to get culturally relevant tools and information, as well as a hub for finding resources like food and rental assistance, unemployment benefits and health coverage. The campaign has partnered with more than 170 community-based organizations (CBOs) statewide to expand access to lifesaving information and support.

By working directly with community organizations representing groups most affected by health disparities, the Safe + Strong campaign will help communities continue to make safe choices, while recognizing people need simple plans to protect themselves and their families. The site’s new “Make a plan” page contains reminders and information on what activities are low, medium or high risk for spreading COVID-19.

“While hope is on its way with the arrival of vaccines, helping our communities understand and access vital information to continue to stay safe this winter is critical for everyone’s health and well-being,” Banks said. “We know how much people want to gather and spend time with their loved ones. Thankfully, there are safe ways for us to do so without spreading this deadly virus.”

OHA data show that 38% of COVID-19 cases have been linked to people who identify as Latino/a/x. And more than 50% of cases have been linked to people identifying as Black, Asian, American Indian/Native Alaskan, Pacific Islander, or Latino/a/x. The state’s history of racism and oppression, as well as inequitable access to medical services, have exacerbated the impacts of COVID-19 in many communities across the state.

The Safe + Strong campaign focuses on Oregonians who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color. The expanded effort will use strategically targeted digital, radio, broadcast, print and other out-of-home advertisements to help create awareness. Online advertisements in 12 languages — English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Russian, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Arabic, Korean, Hmong, Somali, Chuukese, and Marshallese — will connect Oregonians directly to resources and information on the website.

The campaign is anchored with two new television spots, available in English and Spanish:

Vaccination of Malheur County Health Care Workers Continues

In coming weeks, most of Malheur County’s health care workers, as well as long-term care facility employees and residents, will have had an opportunity to be vaccinated against COVID-19. As more vaccine becomes available, health care workers will be followed by our community’s other essential workers and people age 75 and older. The general population is expected to have access to the vaccine sometime in spring 2021.

The Malheur County Health Department is working with community partners to ensure that everyone in our community who wants the vaccine will be able to get it. Distribution plans are under way, and we are confident that widespread vaccination will ultimately enable us to return to our normal way of life.

COVID-19 vaccines have been evaluated extensively in large-scale clinical trials that involved adults from a diverse and inclusive range of races, ethnicities and ages. The vaccines that are currently available have been found to be 95% effective after two doses, given about three to four weeks apart.

As we prepare to open vaccination PODS in Malheur County, we are relying on the research and results from COVID-19 vaccine trials to provide answers to some commonly asked questions, which are addressed below by the Centers for Disease Control. We will continue to provide updates as more information becomes available.

Should I get vaccinated for COVID-19? It is strongly recommended that you do. The vaccine will help protect you from getting COVID-19. If you still get infected after you get vaccinated, the vaccine may prevent serious illness. By getting vaccinated, you can also help protect people around you.

Can the vaccine give me COVID-19? No. None of the COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized for use or in development in the United States use the live virus that causes COVID-19. However, it typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity after vaccination. That means it’s possible you could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and get sick.

If I already had COVID-19 and recovered, do I still need to get vaccinated? Yes. CDC recommends that you get vaccinated even if you have already had COVID-19, because you can catch it more than once. While you may have some short-term antibody protection after recovering from COVID-19, we don’t know how long this protection will last.

Can my child get vaccinated for COVID-19? No. More studies need to be conducted before COVID-19 vaccines are recommended for children aged 16 and younger.

Is it safe to get a COVID-19 vaccine if I have an underlying medical condition? Yes. COVID-19 vaccination is especially important for people with underlying health problems like heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, and obesity. People with these conditions are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19.

Is it better to get natural immunity to COVID-19 rather than immunity from a vaccine? No. While you may have some short-term antibody protection after recovering from COVID-19, we don’t know how long this protection lasts. Vaccination is the best protection, and it is safe. People who get COVID-19 can have serious illnesses, and some have debilitating symptoms that persist for months.

Why do I need two COVID-19 shots? Currently authorized vaccines, and most vaccines under development, require two doses of vaccine. The first shot helps the immune system recognize the virus, and the second shot strengthens the immune response. You need both to get the best protection.

Will the shot hurt or make me sick? There may be side effects, but they should go away within a few days. Possible side effects include a sore arm, headache, fever, or body aches. This does not mean you have COVID-19. Side effects are signs that the vaccine is working to build immunity. If they don’t go away in a week, or you have more serious symptoms, call your doctor.

Are there long-term side effects from COVID-19 vaccine? Because all COVID-19 vaccines are new, it will take more time and more people getting vaccinated to learn about very rare or possible long-term side effects. The good news is, at least 8 weeks’ worth of safety data were gathered in the clinical trials for all the authorized vaccines, and it’s unusual for vaccine side effects to appear more than 8 weeks after vaccination.

How do I know if COVID-19 vaccine is safe? All COVID-19 vaccines were tested in clinical trials involving tens of thousands of people to make sure they meet safety standards and protect adults of different ages, races, and ethnicities. There were no serious safety concerns. CDC and the FDA will keep monitoring the vaccines to look for safety issues after they are authorized and in use.

How do I report problems or bad reactions after getting a COVID-19 vaccine? All recipients who receive the vaccine are encouraged to enroll in v-safe. This is a smartphone tool you can use to tell CDC if you have any side effects after getting a COVID-19 vaccine. If you report serious side effects, someone from CDC will call to follow up. During your vaccination visit, you will be given instructions on how to enroll.

MCHD Will Work with School Districts to Return Students to the Classroom

The Malheur County Health Department (MCHD) commends the Governor’s announcement yesterday to put more Oregon schools on track to return to in-person instruction, beginning as early as January 2021. Read the press release here. Local public health will continue working closely with school districts to follow their Ready Schools, Safe Learners Blueprints and allow more students back into the classroom in person, full time.

“As public health workers, we are very aware of the hardships that students, teachers, and parents have endured while schools are closed to regular in-person instruction and we support the efforts to return students to the classroom, where we know they thrive best,” said Sarah Poe, MCHD Director.

As a community with a nearly 30% childhood poverty rate, our schools are critical supports to the many needs families have not just for learning, but addressing many of their social determinants of health. Rural, high-poverty counties are disproportionately affected by the hardships of both COVID-19 and remote learning. For many months of this pandemic, the counties with the highest incident rate of COVID-19 cases were also counties with a high number of people of color, essential jobs in high-risk industries that cannot be done remotely, a lack of childcare providers, and less community social supports to narrow the gap in capacity to effectively and safely provide distance learning. All of these risk factors negatively affect social determinants of health and have resulted in not only a disproportionate impact of severe COVID-19, but also more students at home without safe and equitable support to sustain distance learning.

COVID-19 vaccines will be available to essential workers, including school teachers and staff, soon after the priority group of healthcare workers has had access to the vaccine. We hope to have more information on county vaccine distribution plans soon.

Thank you to the many advocates who worked on state and local levels to meet the needs of students, teachers, school staff, and families during this crisis. Thank you to Governor Brown for her decision to support a more local response.

12/16 OHA Weekly Report Update

Malheur County COVID-19 outbreaks reported in latest Weekly Outbreak Report by Oregon Health Authority. Find more statewide reports on the OHA COVID-19 website.

  • Active outbreaks in care facilities, senior living communities and congregate living settings with three or more confirmed COVID-19 cases or one or more COVID-19 related deaths
    • Pioneer Place: 5 cases, 0 deaths
    • Sunset Estates, 24 cases, 2 deaths
  • Resolved outbreaks in care facilities with three or more confirmed COVID-19 cases or one or more COVID-19 related death.
    • Brookdale Assisted Living Ontario: 37 cases, 5 deaths
    • Dorian Place Assisted Living: 23 cases, 3 deaths
    • Pioneer Place: 39 cases, 2 deaths
    • Riverside Manor: 3 cases, 1 death
    • Nyssa Gardens: 9 cases, 0 deaths
    • Wellsprings Assisted Living: 6 cases, 1 death
    • Wellsprings Assisted Living: 6 cases, 0 death
  • Active workplace outbreaks with five or more confirmed COVID-19 cases
    • Snake River Correctional Institution: 556 cases
    • Bureau of Land Management, Vale District Office: 5 cases
  • Resolved Outbreaks
    • Walmart 13 cases
  • K-12 Schools with recent COVID-19 Cases
    • Vale Elementary School: 4 students, 7 staff/volunteer
    • Ontario High School: 0 students, 2 staff/volunteer
    • Cairo Elementary School: 0 students, 1 staff/volunteer
  • Schools with recently resolved COVID-19 Cases
    • Adrian High School: 1 student, 0 staff/volunteer
    • Four Rivers Community School: 2 students, 4 staff/volunteers
    • Annex Charter School: 0 students, 1 staff/volunteer
    • Vale Elementary School: 2 students, 3 staff/volunteer
    • Jordan Valley High School: 1 student, 0 staff/volunteer
    • Nyssa High School: 1 student, 4 staff/volunteers
    • Nyssa Middle School: 0 students, 4 staff/volunteers
    • Nyssa Elementary School: 1 student, 3 staff/volunteers

Malheur County COVID-19 Cases by Zipcode

  • 97913 (Nyssa): 465 cases, rate of 8413.2 cases per 100,000 people
  • 97914 (Ontario): 1845 cases, rate of 9606.9 cases per 100,000 people
  • 97918 (Vale): 274 cases, rate of 6039.2 cases per 100,000 people
  • All other Malheur County Zip Codes: 92 cases
    • Total cases 12/16/20 = 2,676
    • Total cases in Nyssa, Ontario, Vale = 2,584

If you have questions or comments on outbreaks, reporting, or cases, please call the Malheur County Health Department and ask to speak with a COVID-19 Case Investigator at 541-889-7279.

The first COVID-19 vaccine doses have arrived in Oregon.

Oregon confirms first COVID vaccines have arrived
State kicks off massive immunization campaign as health facilities begin receiving new Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

The first COVID-19 vaccine doses have arrived in Oregon. Legacy Health is the first registered COVID-19 vaccine provider in the state to receive the vaccine, made by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE. The health system’s Holladay Park site in Portland and Meridian Park site in Tualatin each took delivery of one package of 975 doses today at around 7 a.m.

Additional doses are expected at three other locations in Oregon this week: Oregon Health & Science University Pharmacy, Kaiser Permanente’s Airport Way Center in Portland, and St. Alphonsus Medical Center in Ontario also are each expected to receive 975-dose packages of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The remaining 30,225 Pfizer vaccine doses from this week’s allocation of 35,100 dose for Oregon will arrive at hospitals throughout the rest of the week, with 10,725 doses going to skilled nursing facilities for vaccinations that start next week.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked Oregon to choose the initial sites as a way to test the system that providers around the state are using to order the vaccine.

The shipments follow a U.S. Food and Drug Administration decision on Friday to issue an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which was found in Phase 3 clinical trials to be 95% effective and, in most people, cause only mild to moderate, short-lived side effects.

“In recent weeks, as COVID-19 vaccines reached the final stages of approval, I have said time and again that hope is on the way. Today, I can tell you that help is here,” said Governor Kate Brown. “The first shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine have arrived in Oregon, the first of many that will be distributed across the state. Starting with the frontline health care workers who have been our first line of defense against COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, and the long-term care facility residents who are among the most vulnerable, each day, more and more Oregonians will be vaccinated against this disease.

“Throughout the process, we will work to ensure that the Oregonians that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, including those from Black, Indigenous, Latino/Latina/Latinx, Pacific Islander, and Tribal communities, have equitable access to vaccination. We are in the middle of some of the hardest days of this pandemic. Our hospitals are stretched to capacity, and too many families are losing loved ones just as we enter the holiday season. So many Oregonians have suffered and sacrificed in the last 10 months.

“But starting this week, and each week following — as vaccines become more widely available — we will begin gaining ground again in our fight against this disease.”

Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen emphasized that vaccinations against COVID-19 are still months away for most Oregonians, so vigilance in practicing basic prevention measures — wearing masks, physical distancing, avoiding gatherings, staying home if sick — must continue.

“The vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel, but we will be in this tunnel for several months,” he said. “We need to keep doing what we’ve been doing to help our friends, neighbors and ourselves stay safe.”

Kathryn Correia, chief executive officer of Legacy Health, said, “The safe and equitable distribution and administration of vaccines will take all of us in the health care community working together with public health officials to accomplish the task before us. On behalf of our entire Legacy Health team, we pledge our continued partnership and commitment to this effort.”

Most Oregon hospitals and health systems that registered as vaccine provider sites are expected to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine over the next two weeks. Follow-up shipments are anticipated on Dec. 22 and Dec. 29. In addition, a vaccine manufactured by Moderna Inc., which has not yet received FDA emergency use authorization, also are scheduled for delivery in Oregon on Dec. 22 and Dec. 29.

In all, public health officials anticipate there will be enough of the two vaccines to provide first doses to about 100,000 people, with second doses following in January.

Becky Hultberg, president and chief executive officer of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems (OAHHS), called the arrival of the first doses “fantastic news.”

“As for who receives these first doses,” she said, “we strongly support putting our frontline health care workers at the top of the list. We need to take care of them, so they can take care of us. It’s what they always do, putting the patient first.”

Health officials say that outlook will be borne out in the first phase of the statewide vaccination effort, with health care workers, particularly those at highest risk of direct exposure to COVID-19 in their work — hospital employees, emergency medical services personnel, as well as long-term care facility employees and residents — getting the first doses. Essential workers, followed by people with underlying health conditions and those older than 65 are next in line as they are identified by OHA’s equity-focused Vaccine Advisory Committee.

Priority groups in Phase 2 will be determined at a later time. The general population isn’t expected to be eligible for vaccination until sometime in spring 2021.

The state vaccination distribution plan rollout is happening in tandem with a federal effort that is partnering with pharmacy companies CVS, Walgreens and Consonus Healthcare to offer on-site, no-cost COVID-19 vaccines to more than 680 long-term care facilities in Oregon. The first three weeks of the operation, which starts Dec. 21, will see 22,425 vaccine doses going to skilled nursing facilities and 80,000 doses headed to assisted living facilities.

Stay informed about COVID-19:

OHA updates guidance for quarantine

If you have been near someone with COVID-19, you may have been exposed to the virus. You need to quarantine to keep from spreading the virus to someone else. Stay home and at least six feet away from everyone, including the people you live with, for 14 days.

A 14-day quarantine is the safest option to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others.

If you have not had any symptoms, you may consider ending quarantine early:

  • After 10 days, without any testing, or
  • After seven days, if you have had a negative result from an antigen or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test that was administered less than 48 hours before you end quarantine.

If you choose to shorten your quarantine period, there is a small chance you may spread the disease to others post-quarantine so it is critical that you continue to monitor yourself for symptoms daily. If you develop symptoms, you should continue to avoid contact with others and call your healthcare provider to discuss testing.

For support and resources or if you have questions during your quarantine call 211 or visit the 211 website.

COVID-19 Vaccine Updates

Vaccines won’t end the COVID-19 pandemic, but vaccination will. The following links are sources of accurate information on the state and federal upcoming COVID-19 vaccine plans to achieve community immunity.

December COVID-19 Drive-Up Testing Sites

The Malheur County Taskforce is promoting FOURTEEN free COVID-19 drive up test sites in December! With increasing cases, it is important for everyone who may have been exposed or who has symptoms to be tested so we can reduce the spread of the virus.

With the Oregon Health Authority Testing Branch, COVID-19 testing is available Tuesdays, December 8th and 15th, at the old Ontario Fire Station at the Airport (3288 SW 4th Ave. Ontario) from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Register first at  doineedacovid19test.com. PRINT AND BRING YOUR VOUCHER WITH YOU. Staff will be available to assist anyone without a printed voucher. But those with the ability to register online and print their voucher first should do so to improve the wait time and complete most of the paperwork ahead of time.

Additional Monday test sites are scheduled at Treasure Valley Community College in partnership with Valley Family Health Care. Share these and more testing events from the Malheur County Emergency Management Facebook page. A huge thank you to our school partners for hosting several additional test sites before winter break.

All December Drive-Up Test Sites:

  • December 1st (10 am – 6 pm) Malheur County Fairgrounds
  • December 3rd (10 am – 12 pm) Vale Elementary
  • December 4th (10 am – 12 pm) Adrian Elementary
  • December 7th (10 am – 2:30 pm) TVCC Baseball Fields
  • December 8th (12 – 6 pm) Ontario Airport Firehouse (register)
  • December 9th (12 – 2 pm) Nyssa High School
  • December 10th (12 – 2 pm) Malheur ESD Vale
  • December 14th (10 am – 2:30 pm) TVCC Baseball Fields
  • December 15th (12 – 6 pm) Ontario Airport Firehouse (register)
  • December 16th (5 – 7 pm) Adrian Elementary
  • December 17th (5 – 7 pm) Four Rivers Community School
  • December 21st (10 am – 12 pm) Vale Elementary
  • December 21st (10 am – 2:30 pm) TVCC Baseball Fields
  • December 28th (10 am – 2:30 pm) TVCC Baseball Fields