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Jefferson County Public Health workers take COVID vaccines to farms and homes

While the pandemic enters a fourth surge in cases around the world and in Oregon, COVID cases in Jefferson County remain low at about 10 cases a week.

Seeing the trends worldwide, Public Health Director Michael Baker wants people to do what it takes to keep the numbers low in Jefferson County.

"I don't want to scream the sky is falling every time I see a spike in cases," says Baker, "but also it's important to let folks know that low risk is not no risk."

The cases in the county are popping up sporadically, with no obvious connection to family, work or school. That concerns Baker.

"Random spread means that somehow somewhere out in the community an individual became exposed to COVID," says Baker. "From a public health standpoint, that means it's not easily identified, not easily contained."

If we're going to keep restaurants, schools and churches open, Baker says people need to keep diligent about the coronavirus protocols and get vaccinated.

Vaccination push

The state opened vaccine eligibility to a huge swath of individuals last week, frontline workers and their families. This group includes people whose job involves close contact with people outside their household, people who work in grocery stores or retail, in manufacturing or food processing, in food service or construction.

Also eligible are people ages 16 to 44 who have underlying conditions. In Jefferson County, at least, that newly eligible list includes a lot of people.

"We plan to have at least one mass clinic for first doses each week of April," says Baker, "and another clinic of second doses each week of April."

Culver will have a clinic April 13 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the city hall/fire station.

Bright Wood employees will get their vaccinations April 24 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the First Baptist Church of Madras.

Not everyone can get to the mass clinics. Public health nurses are going to farms to vaccinate workers there, they're making house calls to vaccinate homebound individuals, and hope to pop up a clinic where homeless people congregate. "That will be tricky," says Baker.

Outreach includes live streaming on about vaccination clinics Facebook in two languages, and providing translators at the clinics.

Vaccination hesitancy and anti-vaccination

"Vaccine is the cornerstone of public health services," says Baker, "But without being able to have our children vaccinated, we'll never be able to reach that herd immunity." The Moderna vaccine is approved for people 18 and older, Pfizer is approved for people 16 and older. Until studies prove it's safe, children will not receive the vaccine.

Baker hopes to vaccinate everyone who is able. "Each person who get the vaccine will be another person who breaks that chain of spreading the virus."

In every community, though, are people who will not get vaccinated or are afraid to.

"There's a big divide between vaccine hesitancy and anti-vaccination," says Baker. Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties established the Central Oregon Confidence Committee. Its survey shows people not getting the vaccine are most concerned about the unknown long-term effects of the vaccines.

Over time, Baker says, more people who were initially hesitant are getting the vaccine. Then there are those who will not get the vaccine.

"I think we're a pretty split community," says Baker. "Those that believe in the vaccine and the COVID response are protecting those that are not. That's the irony here."

Record low cold and flu season

The county, along with the rest of the world, has seen almost no evidence of a cold and flu season this year. That might be evidence that masks, hand washing and social distancing are working. Baker says there are other factors as well.

"This year we had a record number of flu vaccines administered," says Baker.

And the COVID virus competes against other viruses. The virus may have attacked its "host" before the cold or flu had a chance.

Register for a vaccine

Those eligible for vaccines can get an appointment by calling their health care provider, their pharmacy or the Jefferson County Public Health Department at 541-475-4456, or registering online at Jeffco.net/publichealth.


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