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?
“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?
“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.

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.

Mental Wellness: Redefining the Meaning of Health

On this, the last day of National Public Health Week, we bring up mental wellness as a component of public health. Thanks to our readers for celebrating this week with us, thanks to all the health care providers in our community for taking care of local residents, and especially thanks to the team at the Malheur County Health Department. We see you, and your work is appreciated.

For science.
Mental health is a critical component of public health. It consists of emotional, psychological and social well-being and is important from childhood through adulthood. But many people live with mental illness – health conditions which change the way we think, feel or behave, which can affect our lives and our work. In the United States, mental illness is one of the most common health conditions. Each year, one in five Americans will experience mental illness. Fifty percent of mental illness starts by the age of 14, and 75% begins by the age of 24. People who identify as being two or more races are more likely to report mental illness than other races, followed by American Indian/Alaska Native, Caucasian and Black populations. For all racial groups, except American Indian/Alaska Native, women are more likely than men to receive mental health services.

For action.
Advocacy for mental health is crucial, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic. Ask Congress to make mental health services readily available during the current and future public health emergencies. Get involved in Project 2025 — an initiative to reduce the annual rate of suicide. Learn about suicide prevention and intervention by joining the National Alliance on Mental Illness  or APHA’s Mental Health Section. And if you or someone you know is in need of mental health service, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.

For health.
The COVID-19 pandemic can affect mental health in many ways, including through loss of a loved one, isolation due to physical distancing mandates, exposure to the virus and loss of income. Given the past year’s strain, it’s not surprising health care workers have a high risk of developing mental illness. Strategies like being physically active, getting a full night’s sleep, eating a well-balanced diet, practicing gratitude, participating in activities you enjoy, developing coping skills, meditating and connecting with others can improve mental health. People who engage in physical activity have fewer days of poor mental health than people who do not exercise. Talking to a licensed therapist, joining a support group or 12-step program or considering medication under the supervision of a physician can all be beneficial.

Where you are.
There is no single cause for mental illness, and certain childhood risk factors, including growing up in poverty or experiencing abuse, can be an indicator for mental illness later in life. Genetics, isolation and use of alcohol or drugs are other contributing factors as well. Unaddressed mental health challenges can have an impact on employment, housing stability, safety and a range of other issues. This underscores the urgency of access to better treatment and coping options for those most at risk. Prevention, early detection and treatment of mental health conditions can lead to improved physical and community health. Public health can incorporate mental and emotional health development and promotion into prevention strategies and activities. This can make health promotion more effective and protect people from other issues that have lasting physical and mental health impacts, such as community and interpersonal violence, tobacco use and houselessness.

Information provided by the American Public Health Association.

World Health Day: Health is a Human Right

For science.
At least half of the world’s population can’t access basic health services such as seeing a doctor, getting vaccinated or even receiving emergency care. Even in wealthier regions, households are spending at least 10% of their budgets on health-related expenses. Many households are pushed further into extreme poverty due to high out-of-pocket health care costs. These issues are made even worse during a health crisis such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Studies show poverty and poor health outcomes are closely linked. When faced with financial hardship, people must decide between their daily living expenses versus their health needs. As a result, they are more likely to go without necessary care such as consulting with a doctor or getting a prescription.

For action.
We have many opportunities in our daily lives to speak out for the right to health. Stay informed on why health issues are human rights issues. Urge your legislators to pass laws and funding to support greater access to health care for all. Ask your employer to support a workplace that promotes health as a human right through family-friendly policies, decent working conditions, non-discrimination and gender equality. Encourage your family and friends to speak up or take action. Organize events and partner with community leaders and other local organizations to promote the right to health. Share stories on social media about why health matters, and challenge online misinformation with credible health facts. Support public health leaders, doctors, nurses, journalists, community members, and activists around the world who face attacks for defending our right to health.

For health.
Human rights are closely tied to how diseases spread and impact communities. Certain groups are at higher risk for disease due to inequalities. The HIV/AIDS epidemic shows us why human rights are so critical to health. People living with HIV often face discrimination that can affect their jobs or housing. When the rights of certain groups are not recognized, lack of access to health information and resources makes disease prevention more difficult. Using advocacy and legal action, civil society organizations and people living with the disease have demanded equality and the protection of their right to health. As a result, governments around the world have enacted policy changes, legal reform and greater program funding for HIV/AIDS research and treatment. These actions have helped to extend the lives of those living with the disease as well as reduce the rate of new infections and AIDS-related deaths.

Where you are.
Social determinants of health impact the health of every community. Where you are born determines your access to health care along with lifestyle and disease prospects. An unequal and fragmented health care system means people receive different care depending on whether they can afford it. If you live in an underserved community, most likely your life expectancy will be shorter than if you live in a well-resourced community. To ensure good health is a reality for everyone, we must call on all countries to protect human rights as part of their health policies and systems. More investments are needed to strengthen the health care workforce and expand services. Better health outcomes depend on health workers delivering quality care.

Racism, stigma and discrimination are setbacks to our health by creating conditions that unfairly disadvantage certain communities while unfairly advancing others. When certain groups are excluded or treated unequally, their physical and mental health suffers. We must find ways to engage communities in speaking out against discrimination and taking action to tackle these inequalities. When we are active in accessing our own care, we can help our health systems become more efficient, which can lead to better health outcomes for everyone.

Information provided by the American Public Health Association.

Public Health Workforce: Essential to our Future

For science.
The strain of the COVID-19 pandemic and its politicization weakened public health, which was already facing a worker deficit. Public health workers have reported symptoms of mental distress due to burnout, exhaustion and job-related harassment. The pandemic has further highlighted the need for a diverse public health workforce to serve diverse communities. Health workers of color are a smaller proportion of the workforce, but they are more likely to work in lower-wage positions.

For action.
Tell Congress you support a loan repayment program for public health workers and other provisions to ensure public health readiness. Sign APHA’s action alert to urge Congress to support strong and sustained public health infrastructure funding. Call on lawmakers to support programs which strengthen the public health workforce, such as those at the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. Advocate in your workplace for paid sick leave, including mental health days. Uphold standards to protect workers during a pandemic, including legal protections for state public health officials. Champion peer support and mental health services in your workplace. Advocate for diversity within the public health workforce and for training that addresses implicit bias and cultural competency.

For health.
When health workers feel they’re supported in their work, they have better mental health outcomes. In places where public health authority is strong, communities see lower rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths. Funding a robust public health workforce supports strong programs to protect communities and help people get and stay healthy physically and mentally. Building a more diverse health workforce would help identify and address structural biases within the health care system to improve health outcomes in underserved communities.

Where you are.
Research shows that every robust health system must have skilled, motivated and well-supported health workers. Public health programs need the support and involvement of the communities they serve, so building public trust and confidence is crucial to building healthy communities. A diverse public health workforce which reflects the diversity of the community is better prepared to address health disparities. The public health workforce is essential to addressing the health challenges of our present and future. Then, the public health workforce can continue to foster and support the health of their community members, wherever they are.

Information provided by the American Public Health Association.

Community: Collaboration and Resilience

For science.
Community encompasses every aspect of our lives — it’s where we live, work, learn and play. Over the course of the last two years, people across the world have experienced social isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Social isolation contributes to increased rates of depression, impaired immunity and premature mortality, and these negative impacts are even worse in communities marginalized as a result of their race, income, sexual orientation and gender identity. Beyond social isolation, there are other conditions in our communities that impact our health and well-being called social determinants of health. People living just a few blocks apart may have vastly different life expectancies because of the safety of the neighborhood they live in and the quality of their schools. Transportation barriers and lack of health insurance can limit access to health services and can increase the risk of harmful health behaviors like skipping medication or postponing care. Having to travel long distances to access nutritious foods is linked to food insecurity, putting communities at higher risk for chronic conditions, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. There are also negative environmental health conditions like poor air quality that can result in cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, and cause more than 6 million premature deaths each year.

For action.
To make an impact on public health in your community, you can join a community garden, donate healthy and culturally appropriate canned food options to food pantries or volunteer at local food distributions. Support community-led solutions by asking questions at public forums or joining a community advisory board. Get information on how your state uses public health funding and advocate for your local elected officials to use American Rescue Plan funds to address health disparities. Encourage your local government to support healthy community design that includes parks, sidewalks and bike lanes — and to fund programs to prevent unhealthy living conditions. Pursue community-engagedmulti-sector partnerships and advocate for a health-in-all-policies approach as a strategy to improve community health. Engage your public health peers and elected officials on health topics on social media.

For health.
People with greater feelings of support and inclusion within their networks may live longer, respond better to stress and have stronger immune systems than those who are isolated from their communities. However, research also shows that cross-sector efforts are needed to redesign the conditions of our social, built and natural environments to promote health equity and improve social determinants of health. To support such efforts, the public health workforce should possess skills and knowledge that cut across disciplines in areas like policy, communications and data analytics. Neighborhood programs like community gardens not only improve access to nutritious foods, but they also cultivate social support and emotional well-being. Adding elements such as sidewalks, parks, libraries or bike routes to neighborhoods supports physical activity, decreases the negative health effects of air pollution and fosters a sense of community belonging. Local efforts must improve housing, education, food, transportation and the environment to support equity, resilience and health at the individual and community levels.

Where you are.
Public health is meeting people where they are. Multiple aspects of social identity like race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and ability contribute to a person’s physical and mental well-being. Communities of color are heavily impacted by environmental hazards and tend to live in areas with heavy pollution, resulting in an increased likelihood of death from environmental causes. To achieve improved health outcomes for people of all identities, we must look to thoughtfully and meaningfully engage members of our communities whose voices are often ignored. Collaborative, community-led, multi-sector approaches to changing policies and systems can address the conditions that hold disparities in place and create more community resilience.

Information provided by the American Public Health Association.

Climate Change: Taking Action for Equity

For science.
Climate change poses one of the most significant public health threats today by creating a series of interconnected impacts on human health. As global temperatures rise, heatwaves become more frequent and increase the risk of heat stroke and make cardiovascular illnesses worse. Warmer temperatures and changes in precipitation expand the geographic range of disease-carrying insects, leading to more cases of vector-borne diseases, such as Zika virus. Increased greenhouse gas emissions make air quality worse by trapping pollution and increasing allergens which aggravate respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses. Drought causes more frequent and intense wildfires, whose smoke further reduces air quality. Flooding from intense storms leads to property and infrastructure damage, mold growth, food scarcity and water contamination. Flooding can cause injury and death due to trauma and drowning and increase stress and anxiety that adversely affect mental health and wellness.

If we don’t move forward with solutions to address the severity of this crisis, these impacts will only get worse, and they will cause disproportionate harm to the most vulnerable among us. Certain populations — such as children, older adults, people living with disabilities and chronic illnesses, communities of color, the unsheltered and outdoor workers — are disproportionately affected by climate pollution and climate change, whether because they are inherently more vulnerable or because their resilience has been hampered by a history of disinvestment and systemic racism.

For action.
While climate change hurts everyone, people of color and those with lower incomes experience greater health harms than white and wealthy people, despite being less responsible for the problem. To address social inequities and improve our health, we need to strengthen partnerships with communities most impacted by climate change, support community-directed solutions and improve access to health care.

Share your story to be a climate communicator because personal stories from trusted sources make the health effects of climate change relatable. Urge lawmakers to help public health and medical communities prepare for and respond to health threats caused by climate change. Advocate for policies that support a just transition to a low-carbon economy. Support your local health departments in their efforts to advance health equity and climate resilience.

For health.
Building strong communities makes them more resilient. Communities with greater cohesion have better health outcomes after climate-related disasters. Addressing climate change alongside other inequities, like racial injustice, helps improve the health of communities. If we can keep global warming increases below 2 degrees Celsius, we can dramatically improve the health of children born today, for their entire lives. And we know taking action to reduce and halt climate change today will result in fewer disease outbreaks and better mental health worldwide.

Where you are.
Structural racism has pushed lower-income communities and many people of color to areas that have fewer resources and more climate vulnerability, such as flood zones and urban heat islands. Race is the number one indicator for the placement of toxic facilities in this country, making air pollution an issue where low-income communities and people of color receive a disproportionate share of toxic air releases. People in impacted communities who are living with disabilities are at an even greater risk, as they often have limited access to health care services and emergency information and have historically high rates of illness, injuries or death from climate change events. That’s why we must address this global problem by investing in local solutions that meet the needs of front-line communities and address the disproportionate burdens they shoulder. Impacted communities need to be the drivers of climate policy and be meaningfully involved in decisionmaking. Public health leaders must work with communities to ensure the best science and policies to address climate injustice are in every conversation about climate change solutions.

Information provided by the American Public Health Association.

Get your second booster on Wednesday

All brands and all doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, including boosters and second boosters are available for anyone eligible at the Malheur County Health Department on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. No appointment is needed. The Health Department is at 1108 SW 4th St. in Ontario, Ore., across the street from the TVCC baseball field.