Washington and Multnomah counties are opening back up. Columbia County is lagging behind.

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - Scappoose senior Gage Ekstrom leads in the last leg of the 4x400 relay in early May. Columbia County, meanwhile, is trailing behind in the race to get residents vaccinated and get our economy and society back to normal.It's nothing new, and yet it bears repeating: Columbia County has among the worst COVID-19 vaccination rates in Oregon, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

Yes, it's true that state data has its limitations. It may not capture vaccine doses administered at federal sites, or those given across the Columbia River in Washington. But it's clear enough that Columbia County is underperforming.

We're not public health experts — but then again, if you've been reading scary things about the "experimental" vaccines and the supposed "benefits" of skipping out on getting immunized, you haven't been getting your information from public health experts. We'll defer to the medical professionals, researchers and regulators in dozens of countries who have concluded the vaccines are safe and effective, and we think you should, too.

While some are content to wait for "herd immunity" to happen, we must stress: The longer you wait, and the longer it takes for places like Columbia County, Oregon, to step up and get vaccinated, the longer it will take to get to herd immunity. The sooner we're all vaccinated, the sooner Gov. Kate Brown will lift restrictions, life will return to something like normal, and this pandemic can finally be put in the past.

The coronavirus continues to circulate in the community. While new cases have dropped after apparently peaking earlier this month, we have seen before that this virus comes in waves, and experts warn that — especially for people who have chosen not to get vaccinated — this fall could again be a difficult one if the virus surges again.

In many ways, it feels like this crisis is coming to an end. It's now safe, according to state and federal authorities, for people to forgo masks in most places — but only if they're fully vaccinated. If you're not fully vaccinated and you choose not to wear a mask, you still run the risk of infection, and of spreading that virus to other people. And because no vaccine is 100% effective, it's not only the unvaccinated who are at risk if the virus surges again in our community.

To borrow one of Brown's favorite phrases, let's be clear: This public health emergency cannot be fully brought under control as long as a sizable share of the population won't do its part to quell the coronavirus.

By getting vaccinated, you don't just drastically reduce your own risk of infection — you also make it less likely that you will transmit the virus to someone else. And considering how insidious this virus is, as people who show little to no symptoms can still be highly contagious, that should be a major selling point for the vaccines.

Oh, have we also mentioned that getting vaccinated is free and easy?

Vaccines are now widely available at clinics and even pharmacies. Appointments are available. There is no charge to be vaccinated, as the state and federal governments have worked to ensure universal access to these vaccines.

In fact, in Oregon, you could even win up to $1 million for being vaccinated. A lottery will be held on both a statewide and county-by-county basis, with only people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine by June 27 being eligible to receive awards.

Ultimately, vaccines are how we beat COVID-19. They're the pathway to schools being open — and uninterrupted by quarantines and temporary closures and other disruptions — five days per week for all our children this fall. They're what gets us to full capacity inside restaurants, bars, gymnasiums and stores. They're what will make it safe for us to celebrate Independence Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's with our loved ones later on this year.

Don't just wait for others to make the responsible choice. Do your part, get the facts from actual experts on these vaccines, and sign up and get your jab. Let's boost Columbia County's vaccination rate and get to that 65% "lower risk" threshold before the rest of Oregon leaves us behind.

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