JEFFERSON — Jefferson County health officials heaved a rare sigh of relief this week when the Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced that 50%, or 42,360 members of the Jefferson County population, have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Many area health officials have been wondering why it’s taken so long to reach that milestone.
As of Tuesday afternoon, 54.9% of the state’s population, or 3,198,475 residents had been vaccinated. As of the same time, 45.2% or 39,678 people in the Dodge County populace had been fully vaccinated. Watertown lagged behind with 43.1% fully vaccinated and 45.5% having received their first dose.
“The Jefferson County Health Department is proud to reach this milestone of 50% of our county-wide community being fully vaccinated against COVID-19,” said Jefferson County Epidemiologist Samroz Jakvani on Tuesday. “Fully vaccinated individuals have a significantly reduced risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19, and are at lower risk overall for infection, symptomatic disease and transmission to others.”
Jakvani said the department anticipates making significant progress in the weeks before the end of the year, as individuals ages 5 to 11 become eligible for COVID-19 vaccination in early November.
“The Jefferson County Health Department continues to encourage community members who have not yet been vaccinated to seek factual and reliable information regarding the benefits and risks of COVID-19 vaccination,” he said. “Almost 7 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered globally, with more than 400 million doses administered in the United States.
“Data from reliable sources show that vaccination is safe and effective, and we welcome inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can answer any questions and provide resources that may help to inform our community members,” Jakvani added.
Jefferson County Health Department Director Gail Scott, however, said originally she did not think it would take this long for the county to reach a vaccination level of 50%.
“We did not think it would take this long, despite the levels of vaccine hesitance we were observing,” Scott said. “Given the strong data showing COVID-19 vaccination is safe and effective, the high rates of transmission we have experienced in the county, and given the progress of our neighboring counties, we expected to reach this milestone in the early summer. With the drop in cases we saw during the summer, we saw an impact on testing and vaccination levels that were already on a downward trajectory.”
She said it is quite a challenge to get some people to get the vaccination shot, but scientific evidence is clear that the shot is safe.
“The vaccines approved in the U.S are safe, and very effective at reducing risk of severe illness and death, and even more so when considering those who are at higher risk due to their age, comorbidities or other underlying and coinciding factors,” Scott said. “Health officials, governmental agencies, scientific leaders and others with broad platforms have promoted vaccination in all the ways we know.”
She said clinicians — primary care, specialists and others with trusted relationships — have done well at informing their patients of the benefits and risks of vaccination.
“And there is still an opportunity to leverage those relationships to better inform patients during those more personal conversations,” Scott said. “We expect that many parents will choose to have their child vaccinated for COVID-19 with those trusted providers, while recognizing that many vaccinators offer more convenient options — pharmacies like Walgreen’s and CVS are offering walk-in vaccination.”
“All that being said,” Jakvani added, “what is working best for those who are not vaccinated is positive messaging, and compassionate peer pressure from friends and family. That has worked well since the early days of vaccination and will continue to. We encourage those who are vaccinated to talk to their friends and family about learning about the benefits and risks of COVID-19 vaccination from factual and reliable sources.”
Scott said that if everyone who is eligible would get vaccinated, she would be elated.
“The closer we get to that, the more we are protected from further illness and death associated with COVID-19,” she said. “We’re also still learning about the durability of ‘natural’ immunity that comes from prior infection, and how that impacts what we consider herd immunity. It remains difficult to set a threshold for when we have reached herd immunity, but somewhere in the ballpark of 70 to 80% would likely be enough to prevent outbreaks from occurring, as the majority would be less susceptible to infection and subsequent transmission.”
Watertown Department of Public Health Director Carol Quest agreed, saying, “Research remains key in determining the level of population rates for community immunity. Currently, research indicates 70% of the population vaccinated is the target to turn the bend in the pandemic.”
Scott said the county is watching developments on COVID-19 booster shots that are coming.
“Vaccinators should wait for clinical guidance regarding boosters for Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson to begin administration,” she said.
To find a COVID-19 vaccination site, visit www.vaccines.gov. People in need also can call 844-684-1064 or 800-232-0233. Many pharmacies such as Walgreen’s, CVS, Walmart, or local pharmacy chains may offer walk-in vaccinations. Always call ahead to ensure availability.
Local health officials said some Pfizer and Moderna recipients should get a booster at least six months after their second shot — people age 65 and older and adults at high risk due to medical conditions or exposure at their jobs. All Johnson & Johnson recipients age 18 and older should get a booster at least two months after their initial shot.
Immuno-compromised people who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine should get an additional dose at least 28 days after their second dose.
Quest said the City of Watertown currently is providing Pfizer boosters at its weekly COVID-19 vaccine clinics.
“When booster doses have been approved for all COVID vaccines through the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, we will provide booster doses at our current weekly COVID-19 vaccine clinics,” Quest said. “If demand warrants a larger clinic, we will (set) up larger clinics to meet the community needs. We are also working with community partners to make vaccine available at a variety of locations.”