PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon is creeping closer to its 70% vaccination goal, but experts from Oregon State University said once that goal is reached, people shouldn’t let their guard down.
Tuesday, Oregon State University held a virtual forum with researchers to discuss the vaccine.
Experts at the forum said that while reaching the goal of having 70% of people ages 18 and older vaccinated is an important milestone, Oregon might want to consider aiming for an even larger percentage.
“There is some evidence that the 70% is not enough. It’s concerning when we have segments of the population, children under 12, that aren’t yet eligible for a vaccine,” said Daniel López-Cevallos, who studies racial and socioeconomic health disparities at OSU.
Chunhuei Chi, another forum participant who focuses on public health guidance, was also concerned about the fact that Oregon’s vaccination rate is not taking children into consideration. He said if you include the part of the population that’s younger than 18, the vaccination rate is going to be significantly lower than 70%.
“As more children go back to school in person, we need to upgrade our vaccination among the children. Several manufacturers, they are doing the clinical trials for young children, 6 months to 12. I hope by the Fourth [of July] we have enough safety data to start vaccinating this youngest group,” Chi said.
He said that while children are resilient to the virus, they can still transmit it to people.
The COVID-19 Delta variant was another topic the experts discussed.
Experts said Oregon is lucky it still has only reported 10 cases of the variant. According to the Oregon Health Authority, the Alpha, Epsilon, and Gamma variants are much more common in the state.
However, scientists from OSU said with how quickly the Delta variant is spreading in other parts of the world, it’s another reason to get vaccinated. They stressed that two vaccines, not just one, will provide the best protection against variants.
“The [first dose of] vaccines only provide 33% effectiveness against the Delta variant; whereas compare that to the Alpha variant, the protection’s 50%,” said Brent Tyler, director of The Center for Genome Research & Biocomputing. “Two shots is, does provide protection against all of the variants that we know about.”
Tyler said currently, 99% of new COVID-19 infections infections in the United Kingdom are the Delta Variant.
The forum participants also talked about the importance of increasing vaccination rates among Oregon’s minority populations and seasonal migrant workers. Right now, African American, Indigenous and Latinx populations have the lowest vaccination rates in the state, ranging between 42 and 43%.
“I think we’re seeing progress, it’s just a little bit slower and we do need more resources,” said Oralia Mendez who runs the Community Health Worker Training Program at OSU.
She’s been working with volunteers to get Oregon’s migrant workers vaccinated. She said many of them are concerned about taking time off work to get the vaccine and about taking sick time if they experience symptoms. Many of them are afraid it could cause them to lose wages and fall behind on rent.
Mendez said the key will be reaching workers in places that are convenient for them.
She gave the example of a pop-up vaccine clinic she helped organize near a restaurant. The restaurant owner saw them outside and closed his business for an hour to allow all his employees to go out and get the vaccine.
Mendez hopes they can keep working with employers to reach more people and vaccinate vulnerable populations.
The experts at Tuesday’s forum seemed confident Oregon shouldn’t see another surge of COVID-19 cases during the summer, but if there is a surge, they said it could occur in vulnerable populations.