The number of people getting vaccinated against COVID-19 continues to drop in Charlotte County from week to week, although the number completing their second dose has increased.
The county’s health chief, Joe Pepe, said the week’s 8% decline is because the overwhelming demand from senior citizens has been met mostly in the county. That demand was huge because the county has one of the highest proportions of retirees in the nation.
“We’ve already vaccinated 94,000,” Pepe said. “You’re over that halfway mark already. We were really front-loaded (with demand from elders).”
Experts say the country should aim for 80-90% vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.
The state dashboard shows about 86.4% of people age 65-84 have been vaccinated in Charlotte County, based on U.S. Census population estimates. The number seems to drop to 60% for those 85 and over, which is a smaller group.
The percent of people vaccinated locally so far grows with each 15 to 20-year interval, starting with only 8% of those 16-24 and rising steadily to 53% in the 55-64 age group. The youngest group has been eligible only about two weeks. That group, however, has the highest rate of infection with the virus in this county, according to statistical analysis using the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 database.
Pepe confirmed that spread among older school-age children is high due to socializing outside the home and outside of school. This is a public health issue, he said, because these teens can bring the virus to households where older parents and grandparents live, who are more likely to have serious consequences.
“What we’re seeing right now is the case numbers in our pediatric population are strongly increasing,” Pepe said. “What we’re focused on now is providing vaccines for these new age groups.”
Commissioner Chris Constance at the board’s weekly COVID-19 update said that at local hospitals, where he is a surgeon, he is seeing and hearing of serious cases among middle-aged adults who are refusing to be vaccinated. The county has a large number of overweight people, he noted, and that makes them more vulnerable.
There have been deaths locally, he said, among middle-aged people who put off contacting their doctor after falling seriously ill with COVID-19.
“Some of these folks are not making it,” Constance said. “It seems that obesity really sets you up for a bad outcome.”
Constance asked if anyone in the county had become ill with COVID-19 after being vaccinated. Pepe said the county is investigating one possible case. Moderna and Pfizer are considered to be 94-95% effective at preventing illness two weeks after the second dose.
The largest number of new cases is among people ages 45-54 locally although on some days, there is competition from 15-24. Cases were dropping dramatically overall through January and February, but began rising again in late March. Deaths have continued to drop statewide, even as cases rise, due to the fact that many elders have been vaccinated. Pepe also credited the state’s campaign to vaccinate residents and staff at nursing homes. That campaign must be ongoing, he said, to keep up with the constant stream of new residents and new staff.
While the rate of doses administered is declining slightly, the number administered at county sites has dropped dramatically, Emergency Management Director Patrick Fuller told commissioners. They went from 1,700 scheduled one day last week, to 400 one day this week. This is because people are scheduling shots more easily now at private pharmacies such as Publix, CVS and Walgreens, Pepe said.
With this drop in number, the county will be re-arranging which sites it keeps open and when, Fuller said. People getting their first dose will be told where to go for their shot. Second dose people should receive a call two to four days ahead of their scheduled doses, Fuller said. If they don’t hear, check the county website to see where second doses are being offered, and go to those sites on the day you were scheduled.
The government’s decision to pause the vaccinations by Johnson & Johnson does not affect the county too much at this point, because no one had much supply of it at present. Pepe said he believes the government will offer more guidance on this vaccine within a week. The guidance may include alerts to health care providers on how to treat the rare cases of clotting disorders that have been associated with J&J vaccinations in four states, resulting in six cases and one death. These cases are against a backdrop of 6.8 million doses administered of J&J so far.
Experts point out the odds of being run over by a vehicle are higher than suffering this possible side effect of the J&J vaccine.