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With the arrival of omicron, boosters are needed

Omicron now makes up over 80% of COVID-19 cases in the Rogue Valley.

The omicron variant is spreading swiftly through Southern Oregon, now accounting for more than 80% of all local COVID-19 infections. Forecasters expect the number of cases to continue to rise throughout this month before cresting in February.

Omicron is more transmissible than the delta variant, which pushed our system beyond capacity this past summer. Although early information suggests the variant may result in less severe illness than delta, it can cause breakthrough infections in those who are fully vaccinated, especially if they have not yet received a booster. It is also less responsive to monoclonal antibody treatments, which helped prevent serious illness in patients with the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and other earlier variants.

The region remains vulnerable to another devastating surge. Jackson County is still only 65% vaccinated and Josephine County’s rate is 61.5% — well below the state’s 80% vaccination target.

Full vaccination plus a booster shot provide the strongest protection against omicron, according to Kirsten Schutte, MD, infectious disease physician and medical director of Asante Infection Prevention.

“All three of the vaccines used in the United States dramatically decrease the risk of developing severe illness from the variants of COVID-19 that we’ve seen so far, including the omicron variant,” Dr. Schutte said. “However, booster shots increase the level of ready-made neutralizing antibodies in the body for several months, and subsequently can reduce the risk of a breakthrough infection.

“Vaccination, masking and physical distancing remain the best ways to protect yourself from COVID-19, slow transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and reduce the likelihood of more variants arising in the future,” Dr. Schutte added.

The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older become fully vaccinated. The agency also urges everyone age 12 and older get a booster shot. Boosters are recommended for most people two months after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, five months after the second dose of Pfizer/Comirnaty vaccine and six months after the second dose of the Moderna vaccine. A third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines is recommended for certain immunocompromised individuals as part of their primary vaccination series and before they receive a booster shot.

Employees who receive a booster and experience side effects should contact Asante Employee Health. Asante will cover up to three days off with administrative pay.

“Asante employees can do our part to slow the spread of the virus by getting a booster shot,” said Jamie Grebosky, MD, chief medical officer. “We owe it to ourselves, our patients and our community.”

WHERE TO GET A BOOSTER

Asante Employee Health in Medford. By appointment Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Call (541) 789-5008.

Asante primary care clinics, by appointment in Ashland, Medford, Grants Pass and White City (walk-in also available in White City).

Jackson County centralized site, 200 N. Riverside Ave., Medford; noon to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Retail locations searchable through vaccines.gov.

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