Oregon lifted nearly all COVID-19 restrictions on June 30, and on July 2, reached Gov. Kate Brown’s goal of a 70 percent vaccination rate among adults. Amid a statewide sigh of relief, health experts encourage people to continue respiratory hygiene and remember that, while the pandemic will end, managing COVID-19 will require awareness and good health habits for the years to come — even for those who are vaccinated.
While unlikely, fully vaccinated people can become infected with or transmit COVID-19, says Lane County Public Health spokesperson Jason Davis. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both about 95 percent effective at preventing symptomatic disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccinated people are also less likely to experience asymptomatic infections and, if infected, will have lower viral loads.
Since vaccinations, while extremely effective, aren’t the “end all, be all,” Davis says, people should be aware of the vaccine rates within their community and adjust their behavior accordingly.
Oregon’s goal of a 70 percent vaccination rate is based on the idea of herd immunity, but the reality is more complicated, Davis says. While many experts believe that a population will reach herd immunity from COVID when 70 percent of individuals are fully vaccinated, the challenge lies in defining that population — is it a state, a county, a workplace, a social group?
“It’s great that we have set these goals,” Davis says. “The true picture of it is much more complicated, and really you have to look at individual populations of people.”
Vaccination rates vary considerably by Oregon county. About 60 percent of Lane County residents of all ages are vaccinated, a figure that’s similar to other metropolitan counties in Oregon, according to Oregon Health Authority data. Many more rural counties have lower vaccination rates, ranging from about 30 percent to about 50 percent.
The CDC recommends that those who aren’t vaccinated or who are visiting with unvaccinated people continue to wear masks, social distance and avoid medium or large gatherings.
Another reason to get vaccinated is that it helps prevent the development of COVID-19 variants, because they have fewer host bodies to take hold in. “You’re actually taking an active role in preventing variants and COVID’s ability to mutate into something that’s much harder to address,” Davis says.
Davis tells Eugene Weekly via email that the Delta variant has arrived in Lane County. Last week, two samples from the Eugene-Springfield metro area tested positive for the new mutation, he says.
The three major vaccines have proven to be effective against the new variants, though. According to a June 29 press release from Moderna, its vaccine is effective against several variants, including the Delta variant, though not as effective as it is against the original strain of the virus.
Johnson & Johnson said in a July 1 press release that the single-shot vaccine so far has proven to have an antibody response that improves over time, making it effective against the new Delta variant.
Pfizer and BioNTech said in a July 8 press release that the two companies are developing a third booster shot that will increase efficacy against the Delta variant.
While our inclination may be to try to forget about the pandemic as quickly as possible, Davis says that COVID-19 will most likely remain a consistent health concern, like the seasonal flu, requiring good hygiene and healthy behaviors, just like other public health threats.
This includes washing your hands regularly, covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough and staying home when you feel sick, Davis says. Wearing masks, socially distancing and remaining outdoors, especially when in large groups or with people who aren’t vaccinated, will also slow the spread of COVID.
Our motivation “doesn’t need to be fear, it just needs to be awareness,” Davis says.
With almost all legal restrictions lifted, COVID conversations must become about making good personal choices, Davis says. Rather than “resisting and mourning the lack of freedom,” he hopes that people will treat respiratory hygiene as a community responsibility.
“This is not about requirements anymore. This is about wanting your community healthy,” Davis says. “You can have an active role in that.”