By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

Vaccine approved for children; COVID-19 cases remain high

Vaccine developments dominated news about COVID-19 this week, as the Pfizer-Biotech vaccine was approved for children 5 to 11, and the Biden administration prepared to require all companies that employ more than 100 people to require their employees to be vaccinated by Jan. 4, or conduct weekly testing and mandatory face-masking.

Oregon is already under a statewide order mandating face masks to be worn indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces, but many states have declined to require public health protocols to control the ongoing pandemic. The Western States Scientific Safety Review Workshop has also given the go-ahead and pediatricians and pharmacies are expected to start receiving child doses this week. The doses for children are smaller than those for adults.

Although the worst of the surge caused by the Delta variant has receded, new cases remain high across much the nation, and increased last week in Oregon.

Oregon is still seeing more than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 a day; nationwide, the seven-day average for new daily cases is more than 70,000.

More than 747,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, surpassing the death toll from the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that the 1918 epidemic killed some 675,000 Americans over two years.

Worldwide, COVID-19 has killed more than five million people, and experts say the numbers are badly under-reported, in part because of a lack of testing and reporting in some hard-hit countries. The numbers are tracked by the Washington Post and Johns Hopkins University.

Yamhill County reported four new deaths on Wednesday and one on Thursday, bringing the county to 123 deaths to date. The county saw 37 deaths from COVID-19 last year, and 86 so far this year.

The Oregon Health Authority released details on the following Yamhill County deaths on Monday:

- An 84-year-old man who tested positive on May 17 and died on June 13 at his residence.

- An 83-year-old man who tested positive on Oct. 6 and died on Oct. 15 at his residence.

- A 78-year-old man from Yamhill County who tested positive on Aug. 27 and died on Oct. 20 at his residence.

- A 66-year-old man from Yamhill County who tested positive on Sept. 7 and died on Oct. 29 at his residence.

The county reported 79 new cases on Thursday, but noted that “this week, Oregon Health Authority identified a reporting error that caused a delay in case reports from a local, mobile test provider. This issue is now resolved and the delayed reports have been processed. Please be aware that over half of today’s case total are from this backlog of older cases and not from yesterday alone.”

The OHA also reported that, after eight weeks of declining cases, the state saw a slight increase, of 2.2%, in new cases last week.

“The increase occurred despite a 5.1% decrease in testing, with test positivity stable at 7.4%,” the OHA reported.

It said that new hospitalizations from COVID-19 dropped last week from 413 the previous week to 313, “the lowest figure since the week of July 26–August 1, 2021.” Deaths also decreased; the state reported 82 last week, down from 110 the previous week.

After more than a year and a half of grim news, canceled events and greater isolation, the public shows signs of being tired of being careful.

But biophysicist William Haseltine, a former Harvard professor who was a leader in research to use genetic decoding to identify and fight disease, warned in Forbes magazine last week that the pandemic is far from over.

Noting that cases are surging in several European countries, Haseltine wrote “The factors at play in the European wave are the same factors that we face here in the United States: vaccine hesitancy and fading immunity, a triad of new more transmissible variants, and a failure to implement the ABCs of public health. If past is prologue and the history of the pandemic is a guide, the next target is the United States.”

In response, he wrote, “we need to renew efforts to vaccinate the unvaccinated and accelerate the approval and delivery boosters to all individuals, not just those deemed high-risk.”

However, Haseltine wrote, those measures alone are not enough.

“I am not optimistic about our winter Covid season here in the United States. I hope I am mistaken,” he wrote. “What I do know, without a doubt, is that stricter adherence to basic public health measures — wearing masks indoors in any public space, avoiding large gatherings indoors, testing ourselves regularly and quarantining if we know we’ve been exposed — could help us limit what could become a repeat tragedy, and another season of death the likes of which we saw last winter.”

Although the vaccines have proven extremely effective at preventing hospitalization and death, and effective at preventing infection, like all vaccines, they are not a guarantee.

This week’s breakthrough case report by the OHA notes that for the week of Oct. 17 to 23, the most recent report, people who were unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated accounted for 72.1% of new COVID-19 cases, while 27.9% were vaccine breakthrough cases.

It reports that, “To date, 4.4% of all known breakthrough cases have been hospitalized” — a total of 1,547 people — and 1%, or 350 people, have died.

However, the agency said, “it is important to note that not all vaccine breakthrough cases are reported to public health.”

The state’s weekly outbreak report also showed a declining number of outbreaks in long-term care facilities.

The OHA reports data from “care facilities, senior living communities, and congregate living settings that have three or more confirmed COVID-19 cases or one or more deaths.”

However, it said, “OHA is aware of 343 congregate settings of five or fewer beds that have had three or more confirmed COVID-19 cases or one or more deaths. Because foster homes typically have relatively few residents, OHA follows the Oregon Department of Human Services practice in not naming these locations to protect patient privacy. To date, there have been three deaths of staff who worked in a congregate care setting with COVID-19.”

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