COVID-19 vaccine

Public health officials will need to be creative to keep pushing the state’s COVID-19 vaccination rate, according to a panel of Oregon State University experts.

Just under 65% of Oregon eligible population has received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, inching towards the state’s 70% goal, which will lift most pandemic restrictions in the state, according to state data.

But according to Chunheui Chi, an OSU public health professor, the state needs to see a lot more vaccinations to tamp down the pandemic.

“Let’s just forget any so-called magic number for so-called herd immunity. The ideal is we want to vaccinate as many people as possible, because we have continued to face new variants that are more contagious,” Chi said during a panel this week.

The panel weighed in on the state’s new incentive for getting vaccinated: A $1 million prize for one vaccinated Oregonian, plus $10,000 for one vaccinated resident in each county.

Those dollar amounts could be effective in increasing vaccinations — for some.

“Anything we put funding into, the signaling behind hat is the thing behind that thing we are investing in is important,” said Aimee Huff, a business professor who studies consumer behavior. “So I think the implicit signaling in the fact that we’re investing as a state in this financial incentive to encourage vaccination, there’s signaling there that says that this is really something important and worthwhile.”

For others though, the state’s lottery reward remains in accessible.

Oralia Mendez, a community health worker program instructor, said some are worried about winning or being a part of the lottery program because there might be a language barrier or they might be asked to show ID or proof of citizenship (though state officials have said any Oregon resident is eligible).

“Those are things our communities see as barriers to being part of that lottery space,” Mendez said.

Instead, Mendez said other incentives might work better for hard-to-reach groups.

 “One of the incentives we’re talking about is having maybe a food truck, where they get a vaccine, a shot for a taco,” Mendez said. “More tailoring towards our communities. So really talking to them, ‘What would work for you, what kinds of things do you need?’”

For other groups, the barriers to accessing a vaccine can simply be timing, according to Dusti Linnell, who works with the university’s extension service, in Lincoln County.

“What we have seen was, where people are saying they probably won’t get vaccinated, really when you think that won’t be resistance or hesitance, but really what we’re seeing is it’s a denial of access. For people who live in Lincoln County who are Latino, Hispanic and Indigenous they mostly work in tourism or agriculture where their hours are very long,” Linnell said.

In those cases, pop-up vaccination clinics at businesses can help get employees vaccinated, as can bands or other activities at sites to attract interest.

What’s more, many rural areas need better access to interpretation services to reduce barriers, Linnell said.

“We’ve been hearing consistently from our communities, especially where I serve on the coast, that the access to interpretation’s a major barrier, they don’t feel like they can trust the locations because there are not people who can speak their language,” Linnell said.

And Brett Tyler, an OSU scientist who’s been tracking the virus’ variants, said those variants still create risk.

Unchecked spread could create additional variants that are more contagious or more deadly, Tyler said. That’s why he advocates for as much vaccination as the state can accomplish, and cautious behavior in the meantime.

“I think there’s a very significant risk to people who are not vaccinated and who are taking off their mask. I think that also flows through to concerns about children,” Tyler said.

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