Benton County Health says to ‘layer protections’ to shield against Omicron variant

Monroe, Ore. resident Joseph Bailey prepares to receive his third dose of the Pfizer vaccine from Willow Christensen, an RN from Good Samaritan, at the Oregon State Alumni Center on Thursday, Dec. 16. COVID-19 boosters are recommended by the Benton County Health Department to protect against the virus, specifically the Omicron variant.

Riley LeCocq, News Contributor

Benton County is gearing up to provide COVID-19 booster shot clinics and suggests layering protection methods ahead of the expected holiday season in response to concerns over the Omicron variant.

Benton County, like many other places across the nation, has seen a significant decrease in cases of COVID-19; however, the county continues to experience high rates of transmission according to April Holland, the Benton County Public Health administrator. 

As we enter the colder months, cases and transmission of any virus, such as the familiar seasonal flu, can be expected to increase. 

It would be wise to approach the holiday season with caution,” Holland said.  

Looking at COVID-19 specifically, the newest recommendation comes as a result of the new Omicron variant of the virus, which has caused some concern from individuals and scientists alike. 

“Much remains unknown about the newest strain of the virus that causes COVID-19,” Holland said. “Early reports suggest that Omicron appears to evade immune response to some degree, so [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and other public health leaders encourage an additional dose of [the] COVID-19 vaccine to enhance an individual’s protection against the variant.”

Holland and the CDC report that those over the age of 18 should get the booster six months after their second shot. For those ages 16 to 17, recommendations are continuing to evolve, but as of now, those with the Pfizer vaccine specifically should get their third shot of Pfizer as well. 

County health departments are now providing designated booster shot clinics to make the shot as accessible as possible for those looking to get it. 

For these clinics, no appointment is needed. Most recently, the Oregon State University Alumni Center offered both Pfizer and Moderna vaccine boosters on Dec. 15 and 16. COVID-19 vaccines are also offered around Benton County at medical offices like SamCare Express in Corvallis, Ore. and Albany, Ore., as well as at retail pharmacies such as Safeway and Rite-Aid.

Holland hopes for 1,000 doses to be distributed during each event to continue the county’s progress in vaccination numbers. 

69.4% of the entire county population is fully vaccinated and 28% have received a booster as of Dec. 10,” Holland said. “An impressive 42% of our youngest eligible children, ages 5 to 11, have received at least one vaccine dose.”

Holland noted, however, that while the vaccine is highly effective and a large portion of the COVID-19 prevention approach, the best protective measure is to layer methods. 

“Some ways to layer protections in addition to vaccination and a booster include wearing a well-fitted mask when in indoor public spaces and crowded outdoor spaces, maintaining physical distance, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, testing, hand-washing and staying home when sick,” Holland said. 

Through these layering measures and the expected success of the upcoming booster clinics, Benton County is hoping to minimize spread of the virus and remove as many barriers as possible for all individuals to access these protective measures. 

“As much as we are exhausted by it, the pandemic is very much still with us,” Holland said. “Yet, the Omicron variant is not cause for panic. We are in a very different place than we were in early 2020. We now have tools including vaccines that offer good protection against severe disease and death, treatments including antivirals on the horizon, an understanding of how the virus transmits and knowledge of how to help prevent transmission with masks and ventilation.”