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Health officials urge Oregonians to get vaccinated against COVID, flu, RSV


Health officials urge Oregonians to get vaccinated against COVID, flu, RSV

Sep 21, 2023 | 7:27 pm ET
By Lynne Terry
Health officials urge Oregonians to get vaccinated against COVID, flu, RSV
Federal officials have approved new COVID booster vaccines. (Getty Images)

As the latest COVID boosters dribble into Oregon, state health officials urged residents to get vaccinated to protect themselves against an expected rise in respiratory infections in the months ahead.

Dr. Paul Cieslak of the Oregon Health Authority and Dr. Katie Sharff of Kaiser Permanente Northwest urged residents to protect themselves in a news conference Thursday by getting shots against COVID, the flu and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, which often causes cold-like symptoms?. Those who don’t get vaccinated could end up with a trifecta of respiratory infections – and even land in the hospital, they said.

“The potential for another respiratory surge that swamps our hospitals and health care system still exists,” said Cieslak, the health authority’s director for communicable diseases and immunizations. “Even before COVID-19, influenza and RSV could overwhelm hospitals in some regions of the state.”

The number of Oregonians infected with COVID has steadily increased since late spring, from about 4% of COVID tests being positive in late May to 15% by mid-September, Cieslak said. And hospitalizations for the disease have doubled since the end of June. 

The number of people infected with the flu and RSV remains relatively low, though that’s expected to change, he said.

Where to get a shot

You can get the COVID and flu shots by contacting your health care provider, county public health clinic or federally qualified health center. You can also search for a clinic by ZIP code by visiting vaccinefinder.org, or by calling 211 or visiting 211info.org.

“Straining of hospital capacity will be an issue nationwide, and perhaps more so in Oregon, where we are additionally challenged by the fact that we have relatively few hospital beds per capita,” Cieslak said.

The health authority no longer maintains its COVID data dashboard. Providers at Oregon Health & Science University, which posts a daily update, are treating 18 people with COVID, including four people in intensive care and three on a ventilator, according to Thursday’s post. The patients are a mix of those who’ve not been vaccinated and those who have, including people who have received booster shots.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the updated shot last week. It recommended that everyone at least 6 months old get one. The booster is free, the health authority said, and is designed to fight strains that are currently causing 95% of illnesses.

Millions of doses have been shipped across the country, though many pharmacies are waiting for their orders to arrive. The health authority said the supply should be more plentiful next week.

On Wednesday, the White House announced it was sending $600 million to COVID test manufacturers and is reopening the free testing program on Monday. Go to COVIDTests.gov to request as many as four tests per household.

The CDC recommends that those at least 6 months old also get a flu shot. Officials only recommend that those 60 and older get an RSV shot. An RSV vaccine for babies and toddlers, called nirsevimab or known commercially as Beyfortus, is expected to be available this fall. 

Providers say it’s acceptable to get two or all three shots at once. Cieslak said they’ve been shown to be safe and effective.

Masking also provides protection against respiratory viruses, health officials say.Although masks are no longer required in Oregon, Cieslak strongly recommended people wear them in health care settings around vulnerable patients. Those with compromised immune systems, with underlying health conditions or aged 65 and older are the most susceptible to becoming severely ill.

“I urge all Oregonians to consider the tools available to them to prevent respiratory infections this season,” Sharff said.

CORRECTION: Federal officials recommend that everyone at least 6 months old get an updated booster. A previous version of this story referred to prior recommendations by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which were more detailed.