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Health officials urge vaccination as variant spreads

Omicron COVID-19 variant spreading across globe

Jackson County Public Health officials are urging the public to get vaccinated and keep wearing face masks as scientists across the world race to learn more about a new COVID-19 virus variant that emerged in South Africa.

Scientists hope to learn in about two weeks whether current COVID-19 vaccines are as effective against the Omicron variant. Vaccine makers may have to reformulate vaccines if they are less effective against the variant. Tweaking the vaccines could take weeks, but distributing new shots could take months, the Associated Press reported.

In the meantime, getting vaccinated with currently available COVID-19 shots boosts antibodies and is likely to provide some degree of protection against the Omicron variant, scientists say.

“It is important to be aware that there is a new variant of concern, but it is too early to know the implications this new variant may have,” said Dr. Jim Shames, health officer for Jackson County Public Health. “We want to encourage people that there are actions that everyone can take to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Ensuring that you are fully vaccinated and taking known precautions, such as wearing a mask, are the best initial strategies that everyone can take.”

With the emergence of the Omicron variant, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Monday that everyone 18 and older get a booster shot six months after they received the two-shot Pfizer or Moderna series or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“Early data from South Africa suggest increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant, and scientists in the United States and around the world are urgently examining vaccine effectiveness related to this variant. I strongly encourage the 47 million adults who are not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible and to vaccinate the children and teens in their families as well because strong immunity will likely prevent serious illness,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.

The variant hasn’t been detected in the U.S. yet, but it’s already spread to Canada, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Australia, the Associated Press reported Monday.

From Wednesday through Sunday, Jackson County recorded 136 new COVID-19 cases and seven COVID-19 related deaths.

Statewide, the Oregon Health Authority reported 2,598 COVID-19 cases and 27 more deaths during that five-day period.

For the week of Nov. 21-27, Jackson County Public Health reported 243 new COVID-19 cases, a 36% drop from the previous week.

On Monday, 40 COVID-19 patients were in Jackson and Josephine county hospitals. Of those, 10 were in intensive care and two were on ventilators, according to hospitalization data.

For information on where to get vaccinated in Jackson County, visit jacksoncountyor.org/hhs/COVID-19/Vaccine-Appointments/where-to-get-vaccinated-in-jackson-county.

Vaccines are currently authorized for people 5 and older.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.