On March 14, 2020, the first person in Oregon died from COVID-19.
“That is a day that will go down in the history of my life forever,” Lindsey Manfrin, Yamhill County’s Health & Human Services director and public health administrator, said during a Newberg City Club luncheon forum at the Chehalem Cultural Center on Jan. 17. “I will never forget that moment, getting that call.”
Manfrin was at the beach with her family when she received the news. She recalled that they immediately packed up and returned to McMinnville.
“(I knew) things were going to happen quickly, and they did,” she said. “Everything unfolded so fast and life changed dramatically for all of us.”
Nearly three years and more than 9,000 Oregon deaths later, “things are still challenging,” she admitted.
Manfrin, who holds degrees in nursing and nursing in health systems and organizational leadership, spoke to a small crowd about the current ills facing Yamhill County and how to protect against them.
Right now, health authorities are paying close attention to the tripledemic – waves of COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and the flu that have descended on the area this winter.
Manfrin shared good news: COVID-19 and RSV cases are trending downward and flu cases are beginning to plateau, with a projected peak in February. Hospitalizations are also dropping.
The bad news is that COVID-19’s new variant, ‘Kraken,’ is highly contagious and predicted to become the dominant strain by next month. However, Kraken is also seemingly less potent than people feared.
“It is to (the virus’s) benefit to become more contagious but not make people more sick, because if people don’t live, they can’t keep circulating the virus,” Manfrin said. “So, this is pretty typical virus behavior.”
As Kraken is still unpredictable at this point, health authorities are monitoring its impact on people who have been infected with previous strains and on the vaccine’s efficacy.
“You’re learning as you’re going forward, as things are coming at you,” Manfrin said. “There’s not the time to sit down in the lab and study these things. They’re doing all that in real time and doing the best we can.”
She added that while the vaccine is not perfect, it remains peoples’ best protection against severe COVID-19 infection, even in the midst of the CDC’s examination into whether there’s a chance that the bivalent Pfizer shot increases the risk of stroke in those 65 years and older.
“None of this (data) has been replicated,” Manfrin said. “It was in one small study that showed what they’re calling a ‘just barely statistical significance’ from a percentage standpoint that made them want to look into it.”
She assured audience members that at this time, the CDC and every vaccine expert she’s spoken to still advocates for the bivalent Pfizer vaccine.
“I think sometimes there’s misconception about how much really goes into the vaccine and how much they’re monitoring it,” Manfrin said. “In the U.S, there’s no medication that’s gets as much scrutiny as a vaccine because you’re giving them to healthy people. If you’re giving something to healthy people, you need to be extra cautious, extra thorough and have extra systems in place to make sure you can identify any things should they happen.”
In 15 years as a nurse, she said she’s only heard of two instances where vaccines have been pulled from the market. One was a pediatric vaccine that was removed after only a dozen reported cases, only to be quickly fixed and put back on the market. The other was the Johnson and Johnson vaccine that was temporarily postponed after nine reported cases out of millions.
“That’s all it took to say, ‘Pause. We’re going to wait and do our due diligence and make sure we’re being safe…,” Manfrin said. “There’s a lot of people watching these things very, very closely, and are very quick to make change.”
Manfrin fields questions about masks, boosters and the unvaccinated
City club members peppered Manfrin with questions throughout the hour-long forum, the most pertinent being about masks, boosters and how to interact with people who remain unvaccinated.
When asked if vaccinated people should avoid individuals who are not, Manfrin first encouraged the audience to be kind to one another and recognize “that we all have differences and we’re all making our own choices for reasons that feel right to us.”
She also said she doesn’t recommend “isolating” unvaccinated individuals, but that it’s up to the vaccinated person to do what makes them feel most comfortable.
Additionally, Manfrin recommended looking at the CDC’s webpage on vaccine effectiveness, which neatly breaks down “who’s becoming infected” by age, number of vaccine doses and other categories. As for why some people who are unvaccinated either don’t get COVID or don’t have a severe case, she explained that “there’s always going to be the outliers” but the most important question is “what’s happening to the majority?”
Another audience member asked if people will continue to get boosters well into the future.
“It’s a little hard to predict at this time,” Manfrin said. “I do imagine that likely we will be in a place where there will some sort of annual booster similar to flu vaccines … With any luck, maybe it’ll be one shot.”
Regarding masks, she said she is a staunch supporter.
“We’re seen study after study that does demonstrate that masks are protective,” Manfrin said. “Masks protects you, masks protect the people around you. There are definitely other places in the world where wearing a mask because you have a cold is a common practice. Some of these things I hope we can carry into our everyday life.”
While some masks provide more protection than others (the N95 being the most effective), she said that even the thinnest mask is still safer than no face covering.
“Those surgical masks … definitely provide a significant level of protection,” Manfrin said. “Is it going to be the same level as an N95? No, but I still think that they are helpful and they protective and still a good idea for those who want to have another layer of protection for sure.”