Jefferson County teens and young adults are lagging behind the state in vaccination rates as COVID cases suddenly are spiking weeks before schools and colleges will resume.
Cases of the virus in the county now are at seven per day per 100,000 people. That’s up from the previous weeks where cases had dipped below one per day.
“Community residents are strongly urged to wear a mask in all indoor public settings and outdoors in large crowds, regardless of vaccination status,” said Gale Scott, director of the Jefferson County Health Department.
In a press release, Scott said residents who have not gotten one of the three vaccines available should do so as soon as they can.
“Compared to an infected person who is not vaccinated, a person who is infected and also vaccinated for COVID-19 is less likely to become severely ill and less likely to infect others,” she said.
While 46 percent of the county is fully vaccinated, compared to 48.9 percent of the state, the county is lagging behind in youth vaccinations. When schools and colleges look to resume classes in September, there is concern about a spike in cases. Last year a spike hit within a week of colleges holding in-person learning.
The goal now is to get a younger group at a higher level of vaccinations. In Jefferson County, only 23.5% of those 12 to 15 years old have been vaccinated, and only 32% percent of those 16 and 17. That is roughly 5 percent lower than the state rate.
And among those ages 18 to 24, the gap is even greater. In that age range, 40% of the state is vaccinated, but only 32% in Jefferson County.
“This is where we are seeing an unusually high disparity between Jefferson County and Wisconsin overall,” said Samroz Jakvani, epidemiologist for the Jefferson County Health Department. “We generally have been trailing by 4 to 5% in most areas of vaccination coverage.”
The key for the county is to continue to work on getting vaccination numbers up in those younger age groups, he said.
The county has been working with schools to promote vaccination, including offering school-located vaccination clinics and educational materials, Jakvani said.
The county will continue efforts to increase vaccinations in the younger age group over the coming months through several means, he said, including working with health care providers, educating community members at public events where the health department has a presence, social media, and by working with other agencies in Jefferson County which are in a good place to share information with the appropriate groups like parents and caregivers.
Scott said in a release that the Delta variant is up to 70 percent more infectious than the strain of COVID-19 from last summer.
“Many areas in Wisconsin have seen a similar increase in case activity over the past several weeks,” she said. “Based on genomic sequencing of confirmed cases, we know that the Delta variant of COVID-19 has become the predominant strain of the virus in Wisconsin.”
While many states across the nation have given everything from money to plane tickets to get people to sign up for a vaccine, Wisconsin has not gone to that extreme.
Right now, Jakvani said there are no additional vaccination events for the younger group being planned at this time.
“We did hold several vaccination clinics for the younger groups starting in May, but we had very little attendance as time progressed,” he said.
“National data shows that health care providers are the most trusted messengers, and many individuals who are vaccine-hesitant may benefit significantly from discussions with their trusted providers/family practitioners,” Jakvani added.
The Jefferson County Health Department is offering in-home vaccination for individuals who are home-bound or have other barriers to access, he said.
The county also has offered on-site vaccinations for businesses.
The county also will be offering free testing, including rapid COVID tests by appointment by Aug. 2, if not earlier, Jakvani said.
“By getting vaccinated, folks will protect themselves, their families and community, and help to keep businesses open and our community thriving,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was expected to backpedal last week on masking guidelines and recommend that even vaccinated people wear masks indoors.
The new guidance follows decisions in Los Angeles and St. Louis to require masks again as COVID cases spike.
The country is averaging more than 57,000 cases a day and 24,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations.