Vaccinations and gathering safely could be the keys for some communities to avoid the surge in case rates and virus hospitalizations seen across the state, according to a panel of Oregon State University experts.
“The larger share of the population that is fully vaccinated the better, the better the shield,” said Daniel López-Cevallos, an OSU professor of ethnic studies with a focus on health equity, during a panel April 27.
While much of Oregon is seeing large increases in case counts in what experts have called the “fourth wave” of the virus, some counties, including Coos, Curry, Tillamook, Lincoln, and Clatsop still have virus numbers low enough to keep them out of the state’s extreme-risk category.
For those counties, López-Cevallos said vaccination could have the potential to help prevent infections and a move to that level of pandemic restrictions.
“The more, I think in rural communities particularly, (effective you are) in reaching your community, and getting the vaccines to them, (the more) you’ll be in a better position to weather that next wave that we’re seeing in other parts of the state,” López-Cevallos said.
Still, vaccinations take time, with doses still hard to access in some areas and with time required between shots.
In the meantime, Chunhuei Chi, the director of the university’s Center for Global Health, said community members can take steps to avoid spreading the virus until they’re vaccinated.
“Based on the Oregon Health Authority’s statistics, one of the biggest contributions to the peak, to the spike in Oregon recently, has been group gatherings. All kind of group gatherings,” Chi said. “So one way to prevent that before you have enough of the population vaccinated is to restrict the group gatherings, particularly indoor.”
And Marion Ceraso, an OSU professor affiliated with the university’s extension service, said local communities will need to continue finding new ways to administer vaccines as more become available.
“I think local communities really are beginning to see that now that they have full availability to vaccinate everyone, and that they have the supply, that they’re needing to reach out ... through other mechanisms,” Ceraso said. “Not just physicians’ offices, but also some communities, some counties are reaching out, sending messages to community-based groups to say, ‘can we bring a vaccine clinic to you? Can we bring it to your local organization?’”
Beyond the preventative impact, federal officials this week provided another reason for community members to get vaccinated, which some experts say could keep demand for the vaccine high.
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased its public health guidance for wearing masks, saying fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear facemasks while doing outdoor activities alone, or in small gatherings.
Since the guidance only applies to those who’ve been fully vaccinated, OSU medical ethics professor Courtney Campbell said it provides a good reason to get the shot.
“It’s also trying to provide, if you will, a kind of incentive, a kind of carrot, for the numbers of unvaccinated people in Oregon and throughout the country to encourage vaccination,” Campbell said. “Then some of these other precautions that people have felt have been so hampering and inhibiting of their return to normality can at least start to be paled back a little bit.”