JEFFERSON — With COVID-19 case numbers up in all 50 states, the pandemic threatens to linger for many more months.
Along the way the virus threatens to take lives and impact people’s long-term health, especially among the most vulnerable populations.
Dr. Anthony Fauci has called the current situation “a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” with vaccinated people able to go about their business as usual but with those who haven’t yet received the vaccine as vulnerable as ever.
To maximize the protection in the local population and minimize future COVID-19 losses, local health officials are now taking vaccinations on the road, reaching out to the most vulnerable populations where they are instead of waiting for people to come into a mass clinic.
“Since the beginning of our vaccine efforts, we’ve been trying to incorporate equity into everything we do,” said Samroz Jakvani, the epidemiologist who has been working with Jefferson County since early in the pandemic.
“We have worked with community organizations and reached out to businesses,” he said. “Yet despite all our efforts, we were still noticing a pretty big gap when it came to race and ethnicity in terms of who was coming to our clinics.”
To address this deficit, the health department has pivoted from large central vaccine clinics to making the vaccine available where people already are.
For area residents who regularly see a doctor, this could be at a local doctor’s office or a pharmacy. Vaccines have also been made available at big local events, like the Father’s Day Drive In/Fly In at the Palmyra Airport, or the Jefferson County Fair.
However, there are pockets of the population for whom the vaccine just isn’t very accessible. One of these groups is migrant workers. These folks may not be as digitally connected as other segments of the population. They may work in remote areas, and they may lack good transportation options which would allow them to get to more centrally located vaccine clinics.
Thus, a couple of weeks ago, the Jefferson County Health Department embarked on an initiative to reach out to the businesses, particularly the big farms, which employ a lot of migrant workers.
The first mobile clinic of this type took place the week before last at Kutz Dairy Farm in Jefferson, where the department was able to vaccinate 11 people who had not previously had the opportunity to receive this protection.
The department considers this a success and is looking to do the same at farms and businesses across the county, Jakvani said.
“We have reached out to every single farm in Jefferson County and to every business where migrant workers comprise a significant amount of the workforce,” Jakvani said.
In addition, the county hopes to begin a door-to-door vaccine information campaign in the near future, the epidemiologist said.
“We’re looking to start that in the cities with the lowest prevalence of people who have received the vaccine,” he said.
In these door-to-door stops, county representatives would provide factual, non-biased, scientifically based information on the vaccines that are available and how they work.
If interested, residents would be offered the opportunity to receive a vaccine on the spot.
“Rather than let doses go to waste, that seems to be the way to do it looking into the future,” Jakvani said.
The epidemiologist said that when the vaccines first became available, the county saw a rush of people eager to get the shot. Now, adults and teens who were eager to receive the vaccine have gotten it, but there is still a significant segment of the vaccine-eligible population which is reluctant to get the shot, for whatever reason.
“In April, we were vaccinating 2,000 people across the county every week,” Jakvani said. “Now it’s more like 200 to 400 people a week. If we can even raise that by 100, that will be a success.”
The more people get the vaccine, he said, the less COVID-19 has a chance to spread through the population, and the less chance it has to mutate into variants which could potentially spread more easily and have more serious effects.
As of last week, Jakvani said that 45.8 percent of adult county residents were fully vaccinated, while 55 percent had received at least one dose.
Yet, according to a report by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, current data suggests that around 70 percent of the population would need to be immune to achieve herd immunity to COVID-19.
“We’d like to make sure this county is as protected as possible from the surging Delta variant and any future COVID-19 variant that might emerge,” Jakvani said.
“We want to empower county residents to make the best decision for themselves based on the most reliable information from the CDC, the health department and current research,” he said.
With questions, people are encouraged to call the Jefferson County Health Department at (920)674-7275.
People may also connect to a vaccine provider directly by dialing 211.