There’s been a “precipitous” drop in the number of people willing to be vaccinated in Flagler County in the last few weeks, raising concerns that vaccine hesitancy or mistrust may delay attaining herd immunity, or keep it out of reach.
The best day for first-dose administration in the past two weeks was 220, on April 28. First doses include the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine. The average daily first doses has been 129 for the past two weeks, according to figures compiled by the state Health Department. In the first two weeks of April, the average daily first doses administered was 413. And in the last week of February and the first week of March, the average was 480. That’s totals at all vaccination locations, including the Health Department, the hospital, private pharmacies and so on.
Bob Snyder who heads the Flagler County Health Department, a state agency, illustrated the sharpness of the slowdown this way: Four weeks ago, the department was providing anywhere between 450 and 500 first doses two days a week, totaling 800 to 900 for a week. “Four weeks later, today, 100, 110, so maybe a total of 200.” He described it as “this precipitous drop in people asking for their first dose.”
The drop has coincided with the department fanning out to a dozen locations across the county in an effort to maximize vaccine outreach, including three restaurants, four churches, the local hospital and, still, the fairgrounds and the Palm Coast Community Center. “We’re just making sure that anyone who wants to get a vaccine can at all these different sites through the health department, in addition to the private pharmacies and all the big retails pharmacies here in town,” Snyder said.
“Of course we’re concerned about vaccine hesitancy and vaccine denial,” he said. “You know there are pockets of people out there who would fall in those categories and all we can do is educate, answer their questions, keep them informed about risk and do our best to encourage and promote them getting vaccinated.” Snyder pointed to a recent study that showed that at the Cleveland Clinic, 99 percent of those hospitalized had for covid had not been fully vaccinated.
Actually, it’s 99.75 percent. Snyder was referring to a study released Tuesday by the Cleveland Clinic. According to the Akron Beacon Journal, the study found that of nearly 4,300 covid admissions in Ohio between Jan. 1 and April 13, “more than 99.75% were in patients that were not fully vaccinated.”
A spokesperson for the Cleveland Clinic said today the study is not yet published, but that the clinic had provided the following topline data:
“Cleveland Clinic looked at COVID-19 infections among our employees in Ohio in the 4 months after we started giving the COVID-19 vaccine. The study included 47,000 caregivers. Of those 1,991 got COVID-19. We found that:
99.7% of these infections occurred among those who were unvaccinated
Only 0.3% of the infections occurred among those who were fully vaccinated (2 weeks beyond the second dose of the vaccine).
In this group, we found the mRNA vaccines to be more than 96% effective in protecting against COVID-19.
“In addition to the caregiver study, we looked at data for our patients who had been hospitalized for COVID-19 in 2021.
“Of the nearly 4,300 COVID-19 admissions between January 1, 2021 and April 13, 2020, more than 99.75% were in patients that were not fully vaccinated.”
“So the message there is you want to avoid the hospital with Covid, get vaccinated,” Snyder said. He’s asked for equivalent numbers for local and regional hospitals but hasn’t received those numbers yet.
In January, the Health Department couldn’t store its vaccines: demand was so high that the moment they arrived, they were administered. That’s no longer the case. Right now we have about 3000, was we have 2,689 Moderna available and 275 J&J. But most of the Moderna doses are to be administered as second doses. “We are moving the vaccines, but less than before, much less than before,” Synder said.
As of today, 53,400 Flagler County residents have had at least one shot, or 46 percent of the total population. Herd immunity is considered to be reached when around 80 percent of the population has been vaccinated.
With availability comes new opportunities. This morning, the Health Department was at the Flagler County jail, immunizing 14 inmates with their second shot of the Moderna vaccine. “At intake, all inmates are screened for Covid-19 symptoms and educated on the benefits and risks of receiving the vaccination,” a sheriff’s release issued today said. “Further education is given to inmates on the vaccination by jail medical staff in each housing unit where they have the opportunity to have any questions answered. After being informed, inmates who desired to be vaccinated are afforded the opportunity to receive the shot.” Eighteen inmates had requested the vaccine when they got their first shot in mid-April, but four have since been released, and given follow-up instructions on getting their second shot.
“As an agency, our number one priority is the safety of our residents and it is important to remember that the majority of the inmates housed at the jail do re-enter the community,” Sheriff Staly said. “After the vaccination became readily available to the general public in Flagler County, we worked with
the local Department of Health made to make the vaccine available to the inmates.”
The jail houses over 200 inmates. It isn’t yet clear what proportion of those inmates were offered the vaccine, and what proportion declined. The release noted that since the beginning of the pandemic, 16 jail staff members and 10 inmates have tested positive for covid, though none were hospitalized and none died.
The slowing proportion of vaccinated people is not unique to Flagler or to Florida, though geography and politics play a pronounced role: southern states have a significantly lower rate of vaccination than do northeast, midwestern or Pacific states. Florida currently ranks 32nd in rate of vaccination nationally despite having one of the higher proportions of people 65 and over and the state’s focus on 65-and-over vaccinations, which have gone well in Flagler: 80 percent of the local population 65 and over is vaccinated.
The Health Department routinely provides hepatitis and flu shots to jail inmates. It expects to have more systematic protocols in place for covid vaccinations there.
To step up vaccinations, the Health Department is working on a public information campaign that will air on Flagler Broadcasting’s four radio stations in about a week and get disseminated through local governments’ websites. The department will then be moving to what it calls Phase Three of its vaccination campaign, wrapping up the vaccinates at 12 to 15 roving locations and instead focusing on three fixed locations, including an after-hours location (that will be the Tax Collector’s office in Flagler Beach, on Strate Road 100). Another site will be the Wadsworth Elementary gymnasium, off of Belle Terre, during the day. A third site will be AdventHealth Palm Coast hospital. “This won’t start until about the middle of June,” Snyder said.
There will continue to be other locations, such as pharmacies and the major grocery stores.
The department is also preparing to receive the Pfizer vaccine for the first time, soon after the federal government is to clear Pfizer vaccination for children 12 and older. “We want to order enough quantity and inventory that matches what we think that demand might be,” Snyder said. “That’s why I’ve reached out to the school district, waiting to hear back from them on getting up a tally of the number of 12 to 15 year olds that we have in our school system here.” Children 16 and 17 will also be eligible.
Florida’s ranking is best among southern states, with a third of its population fully vaccinated. But about 10 states are below the 30 percent threshold, and Mississippi and Alabama are just above the 25 percent threshold: there is a direct correlation between a state’s political leaning and its vaccination rate, with bluer states generally closer to the top of the chart and redder states closer to the bottom, with notable exceptions (South Dakota is in the top 10, Iowa, Nebraska and Alaska in the top 20). Flagler County’s hope to be at the top of Florida’s 67 counties in vaccinated residents appears out of reach. The county is now ranked 11th, with 53,000 residents who have received at least one shot of the vaccine.
Meanwhile, covid infections in Flagler have finally fallen from what had been a high plateau of triple-digit infections week after week: there were some 77 infections in the past seven days, or just above 10 a day, compared to 108 the previous week, or an average of 15 a day. There were 11 people hospitalized with a primary diagnosis of Covid-19 at AdventHealth Palm Coast. There has not been a covid-related death in several weeks, that cumulative total holding at 111.