April 21, 2021

Half of adults in Multnomah County have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and a third have been fully vaccinated, Multnomah County Public Health Director Jessica Guernsey told commissioners Tuesday at a routine briefing on the county’s response to COVID-19.

The update came just a day after all people 16 and older became eligible for the vaccine in Oregon. 

“To our staff, volunteers, medical reserve corps, community partners, this is truly a huge unprecedented effort,” Guernsey said. “I think everybody who has been involved has been incredible.”

Multnomah County’s  Public Health Division continues to prioritize BIPOC and immigrant communities in its response, Guernsey said. Of the 77 public health clinics the County has stood up, 37 were held in partnership with culturally-specific community partners to reach communities of color; of the more than 15,000 people vaccinated at those clinics, 75 percent of people identified as a person of color.

Other clinics sought to reach community health workers, adults in custody, older adults, people experiencing homelessness and housebound people. Those clinics also reached a larger percent of black, indigenous and other people of color.

Going forward, Guernsey told the Board, Public Health would continue centering racial equity in its vaccine strategy as it plans clinics to reach agricultural workers, low income senior housing, multigenerational households, shelters, and people living outside.

Tracking the Pandemic

Weekly case counts of COVID-19 have trended up this spring, from a low of 149 in late February, to 603 the week of April 4. Meanwhile the percent of tests that produce a positive result has risen by more than 2 percent to 3.5 percent today. 

“We are looking about what we looked like during the middle of last July and this is true across the region,” Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines said.

There are reasons to celebrate, however. Outbreaks in elder care facilities have dropped “incredibly,” she said. The trend was expected given the priority to vaccinate people in long term care facilities, where more than a third of COVID-19 deaths have occurred.

Hospitalizations are also down, though Dr. Vines cautioned that hospitalization rates tend to lag behind changes to COVID-19 case rates.

Vaccination is the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19, she said, particularly to protect against viral strains first identified in California and the United Kingdom – variants which can be up to 50 percent more contagious and result in more severe outcomes.

“The vaccine is by far our biggest effort to stay ahead of the variants, but we do still encourage people to get tested if they have symptoms so they can isolate and so their close contacts know to quarantine and watch for symptoms,” Vines said.

As schools transition to in-person learning, many remain concerned about an increased risk of COVID-19 transmission. Early data suggests transmission is significantly higher in sporting and social settings than in class. Oregon schools continue to classify a COVID outbreak as one or more cases and cohort quarantine protocol remains in effect.

Pause on Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

Multnomah County continues its pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine after six cases of a serious and rare blood clot in women who had received the vaccine. The vaccine is still approved through the Emergency Use Authorization, but the pause will continue until Multnomah County health officials receive guidance from those state and federal health agencies that are assessing the risk.

“When people say it’s 6 cases in 6 or 7 million doses, I would just point out that given that these were in women in a relatively young age group, the risk (for that group) is actually much higher because the denominator is doses given in that age group,” Dr. Vines told commissioners Tuesday.

For now, Multnomah County vaccination clinics offer patients either Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. Dr. Vines expects additional information on the health risks associated with the Johnson & Johnson to be available Friday, after a CDC advisory panel meets again. 

Those who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks of vaccination should see a healthcare provider immediately.