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4-08 covid-19

Last Friday, Governor Kate Brown announced that families of frontline workers 16 and older are now eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines in Oregon. Additionally, the state’s definition of underlying conditions has expanded to match the Centers for Disease Control.

“If you are a frontline worker as defined by the CDC, when you make a vaccine appointment for yourself, make them for your whole family, too. If you’re attending a community vaccine event, bring your family with you,” Governor Brown said.

Group 7 of Phase 1b in the state’s vaccine rollout, became eligible to receive vaccines last week. That group included frontline workers over 16, farm and agricultural workers and people 45 to 64 with underlying health conditions like asthma, heart disease and BMIs greater than 25. On Monday, those categories expanded to families of essential workers and people over 16 with underlying conditions.

Those underlying conditions now include people with Type 1 diabetes, current and former smokers and people with substance use disorders, according to a news release from Sky Lakes Medical Center. People living in households with three or more generations are also eligible to make appointments.

This Wednesday beginning at 9 a.m., Klamath Health Partnership will be hosting a repeat of last week’s mass drive-thru vaccination clinic at the Klamath County Fairgrounds. The event is open to all Klamath County residents over the age of 18 regardless of eligibility or risk factors. Appointments are required and can be made online.

The clinic will feature the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, whose efficacy is comparable to the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna products. According to a news release from Klamath County Public Health, this is the final drive-thru event KHP will be hosting.

“We encourage community members to take any opportunity they have to get vaccinated, don’t wait for any particular vaccine because they all have very good efficacy. The J&J vaccine has the benefit of being a one dose vaccine instead of needing to get a second dose,” said KHP Medical Director Dr. Flor Mounts.

Sky Lakes will be hosting two vaccine clinics this Thursday and Friday for those eligible through the state. Appointments can be made by calling 1-833-606-4370 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays. No walk-in or on-site appointments can be made.

Only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved for people 16 and older, so Sky Lakes is currently scheduling appointments for those 18 and older. But they anticipate a shipment of Pfizer doses in time for Friday’s clinic.

“Sky Lakes expects confirmation of its allocation of the approved vaccine late Thursday and may be able to open appointments for the Friday vaccination event,” the release said.

Brown said the eligibility expansion was done with the knowledge of rising cases and the increasing prevalence of COVID-19 variants in Oregon and the U.S. at large. Klamath County has seen a significant uptick in virus cases and two additional virus deaths over the past several weeks, and it will move to “Extreme Risk” level this Friday, requiring indoor dining to close and capacity at other businesses to reduce significantly.

Variants, particularly the more contagious B.1.1.7 originally identified in the U.K., will become more of an issue if cases rise faster than people can be vaccinated. As of Monday, Oregon had 20 cases of that variant, according to the CDC. Scientists in Oregon have also discovered one case of the B.1.1.7 variant with a mutation found in South Africa that renders vaccines less effective, believed to have formed organically in the state.

Currently, not enough people in Klamath County are fully vaccinated to reach the point of herd immunity, where the spread of the virus would be significantly reduced and it would have fewer opportunities to mutate. {/span}Last week, Sky Lakes said they could have to make room for more COVID-19 patients as virus hospitalizations have increased locally. Health officials urged residents to get vaccinated and continue wearing a mask, washing their hands and avoiding large gatherings.

“Our numbers are rising and we are back on alert,” Brown said. “This is a race between the vaccines and the variants. It is a critical moment for us all to double down so we can outrun this next wave.”