PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Hospitals are reaching capacity across the country, including in Oregon where 94% of ICU beds were full as of Wednesday. Oregon Health and Science University said 93% of its COVID-19 patients were unvaccinated.

Dr. Marcel Curlin, infectious disease professor at OHSU, said intensive care units are inundated with patients in need of treatment.

“The ICU occupancy is extremely high statewide — it’s been climbing steadily, it’s reaching crisis levels,” Curlin said. “The overwhelming number of COVID hospitalizations are among unvaccinated.”

Curlin said breakthrough cases are not the driving factor behind the surge and younger people are being hospitalized now at a higher rate than earlier in the pandemic.

“The bottom line is if you can possibly get vaccinated, you should,” Curlin said. “This is what viruses do. No doubt we’ll see additional variants. The best way to fight that process is to reduce the number of people infected. The way to do that is to get as many people vaccinated as possible.”

KOIN 6 News asked Gov. Kate Brown’s office if any additional restrictions on businesses and restaurants were under consideration in light of ICU beds filling up across Oregon.

“The Governor is incredibly concerned about the ongoing spike of COVID-19 patients needing hospital and ICU care which threatens to overwhelm our nurses and doctors,” a spokesperson for Brown’s office replied in an email. “That’s why she established Oregon’s statewide indoor mask requirements, and why we are continuing to devote state resources, including deploying up to 1,500 Oregon National Guard members, to reduce pressure on Oregon hospitals and health care workers during the Delta surge. We have also made requests to the Biden-Harris administration and FEMA for additional health care resources and assistance. The difference between now and past surges is that over 2.5 million Oregonians, including over 7 in 10 adults, have received at least one vaccine dose. Vaccines remain the most effective way for Oregonians to protect themselves and their families against COVID-19. In addition, modeling from OHSU shows that the widespread wearing of masks can slow the spread of the Delta variant and keep our hospitals from being stretched beyond their capacity. At this point of the pandemic, we are not taking any options off the table but, if we all do our part, vaccines and masks will save lives and help keep our schools, businesses, and communities open.”

Booster shots starting next month

In response to both the fast-spreading delta variant and data that suggests the vaccines’ effectiveness falls over time, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending booster shots for Americans pending approval from the Food and Drug Association.

Health officials with the CDC and the National Institutes of Health said Americans should seek a booster eight months after getting their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. President Joe Biden said booster shots could begin rolling out as early as Sept. 20.

“Just remember there’s a simple rule: eight months after your second shot, get a booster shot. These booster shots are free, you can get them at 80,000 vaccination locations, just show your vaccination card,” said President Joe Biden. “My administration has been preparing for this possibility for months. We purchased enough vaccine and supplies so when the eight-month mark comes, we’re ready for you to get your vaccine booster shot for free.”

The FDA will evaluate the safety and effectiveness of a third dose, and give the final approval for this new booster plan.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said people who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will likely also need a booster shot, but the agency plans on releasing a booster plan for it in the coming weeks.

KOIN 6 reached out to the Oregon Health Authority for comment on the possibility of booster shots being made available starting in September and received the following statement:

“Before any booster shots are distributed, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must first review the safety and effectiveness of administering booster doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) will then review the FDA’s evaluation.

“When the FDA and ACIP complete their reviews, the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup will assess the recommendation.

“Once the workgroup finishes its analysis, OHA will establish further guidance for booster shots in Oregon.”

Booster shot vs. Third dose

Booster shots should not be confused with third doses for those with weakened immune systems, Washington state health officials said.

According to the CDC, this is because boosters are for people whose immunity wanes over time, and some high-risk groups – including those with certain medications, diseases and organ transplants – didn’t get enough protection to begin with.

Following guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Washington Department of Health announced Saturday that it, too, recommends a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for immunocompromised people.