WEEKLY COVID UPDATE: June 21

Benton County reported just 23 cases of COVID-19 this week, bringing the county’s case total to 3,259 cases since March 2020. June thus far continues to be the lowest month of COVID case reports for Benton County since August of last year.  

Statewide, Oregon reported 1,792 cases this past week, and 24 new deaths. This brings Oregon’s total case count to just under 206,300 since the start of the pandemic. There are approximately 2.1 million people fully vaccinated in the state. Nationwide, the US has reported 33.3 million COVID cases since spring of 2020. Roughly 65.5% of the adult population in the country has now received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine.   

Oregon’s 70% Target Moving Farther Away 

In an article published by the Oregonian, it seems like Oregon is not on track to meet the state’s goal of attaining an adult population that is 70% vaccinated against COVID-19 by the original target date of June 28. 

This is a problem for any resident or business owner who is looking forward to the lifting of statewide mask mandates and social distancing requirements, as Governor Kate Brown announced would happen when we hit the 70% vaccination target.   

Unfortunately, the rate at which Oregon’s adult population is getting vaccinated has been slowing down significantly. According to data tracking by the Oregon Health Authority, the number of people who got vaccinated in the last two weeks is only a fraction of the adult population that was lining up to get the shots two months ago. Because fewer people are receiving the vaccine, the target of 70% set by the state is moving farther into the future.  

In order to reach that goal, the OHA says just over 50,000 more Oregon adults need to be vaccinated. The state government now thinks July 1 is a more reasonable date to expect this target to be met, however, officials agree that as vaccination rates continue to slow, this could be pushed back further into the summer.  

Delta Variant Rising to Global Concern 

The COVID-19 Delta variant, first identified as a virus mutation in India in December 2020 (also known as variant B.1.617.2), is transmitting at rates fast enough to cause global concern. It’s believed to be even faster spreading than the UK variant which swept through the U.S. last winter during the largest wave of the pandemic thus far.  

The Delta variant is also spreading through the UK, with case rates almost doubling in the country in one week from roughly 42,000 to almost 76,000. According to an article published in the BBC, it is now the dominant variant in the UK, out-competing the country’s own original variant (the UK variant, B.1.1.7).  

Experts believe travel from outside the country — mainly from India) into the UK — was a major reason the variant is spiking there now. This is also cause for concern amongst US citizens and health officials, as travel is re-opening for both domestic and international flights.   

President Biden warned during a press briefing that, while over 45% of the nation’s adult population is now fully vaccinated against the virus, the Delta variant is a major danger for the unvaccinated population.  

New Vaccine from Novavax  

There is a promising new COVID vaccine produced by the pharmaceutical company Novavax, headquartered in Maryland, US.  

In a trial of 30,000 participants, the vaccine was found to have a 90% efficacy rate at defending vaccinated individuals against the virus, and fully protected vaccinated participants against moderate to severe symptoms — meaning a 100% efficacy rate against severe illness. 

There are three interesting things to note about the new vaccine. Firstly, the trial participants were considered highly diverse with 44% of people identify as a non-white race. This has promise to increase trust amongst black and Latino communities who are weary of medical personal and government-promoted vaccines.  

Second, the trials for the Novavax vaccine were conducted more recently than the studies of the Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J vaccines. That means Novavax vaccine was up against the variants of concern circulating in the US now, while some of those variants were non-existent or not yet in the US while the original three were being tested.  

Third and perhaps most interesting, is that the Novavax vaccine utilizes the COVID spike protein rather than the virus mRNA like the other vaccines use. The spike protein, also called a glycoprotein, are the spikey projections that cover the outside of a virus, allowing it to attach to and enter into a foreign cell. This is not a new technology, as many vaccines we regularly received pre-COVID contained the virus or disease spike protein. This does mean, however, that unlike the mRNA vaccines that need to be chilled at incredibly cold temperatures, the Novavax vaccines will survive in a standard refrigerator.  

This has huge implications for combatting the virus worldwide, especially in countries that have yet to achieve community-wide vaccine success. 

The Advocate is ending its weekly COVID-19 column but make sure to keep your eyes peeled for more pandemic-related articles as data and trends continue to emerge on vaccine rates, variants, and state-wide policies related to controlling the virus. 

By: Lauren Zatkos