Amid Clackamas County's recent upturn in weekly COVID-19 cases, booster shots have been approved for Pfizer recipients 18 and older, with county health officials recommending boosters for seniors 65 and older as well as other high-risk groups.
In the week of Sept. 21-27, 936 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed and six deaths were reported, the first increase in two weeks, the county's Public Health Division reported on Sept. 29.
Despite the local bump in cases, COVID-19 hospitalizations remain on a sharp decline, with 822 residents hospitalized across the state for the virus as of Sept. 28. Additionally, 22 ICU beds remain available of the 340 total beds in the state's northwest region (Region 1), comprised of Clackamas, Multnomah, Washington, Clatsop, Columbia and Tillamook counties.
Cases among youth 18 and under has increased this fall as students countywide returned to in-person instruction for the school year, but Public Health Director Philip Mason-Joyner reported a lack of severe illness or hospitalization within this population. Cases within long-term care facilities have also increased alongside general county rates.
Mason-Joyner reported a sustained increase in county residents seeking out COVID-19 vaccines with nearly 270,000 residents having received at least one vaccine dose as of Sept. 28. While Clackamas County's 73.4% rate is one of the more highly vaccinated counties in the state, but it remains slightly below the state average of roughly 75%.
Those 18 and older who received the Pfizer vaccine are now eligible to schedule a booster shot at least six months after receiving the second dose. While this opens the opportunity to a wide range of demographics, Mason-Joyner encouraged higher-risk groups including seniors, long-term care facility residents and individuals aged 50 to 64 with underlying medical conditions to schedule their appointments soonest.
Mason-Joyner highlighted the difference between a booster shot, which is given six months after the second dose and a third dose, which is for immunocompromised individuals and is given 20 days after the second dose.
"We will begin to offer boosters for the Pfizer vaccine at our clinic starting next week as early as Monday by appointment only," Mason-Joyner said.
Case rates among unvaccinated individuals remain nearly four times higher than among vaccinated residents, with positive cases among roughly 396 per 100,000 unvaccinated individuals compared to just over 94 per 100,000 vaccinated individuals.
Clarifying commonly asked questions about how vaccines work, Mason-Joyner explained that Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines that use messenger RNA to direct cells to produce spike proteins, whereas Johnson & Johnson, a viral vector vaccine, uses an envelope located outside a virus as a communication channel, directing cells to create spike proteins.
"All three of these vaccines ultimately have the same result. They teach your body how to make copies of the spike protein, so that it looks like the virus, but it is not dangerous," Mason-Joyner said. "It does not result in disease. If you are exposed later on, after you get vaccinated...your body recognizes it; it knows how to manage that within you and it is able to fight it off."
Mason-Joyner added that the vaccines are a result of more than 20 years of research and development. Over 3 billion people across the globe have been vaccinated so far, with side effects proving to be "incredibly rare."
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