Vaccination rates have slowed. Here’s what local counties are doing about it

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

A little over half of Dayton area residents are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus — a milestone both celebrated for undoubtedly saving lives but also concerning that it isn’t higher a year after the first shots were approved for emergency use in the U.S.

On Dec. 14, the first approved COVID-19 shot in Ohio was given at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center to a frontline health care worker. About a week later, doses arrived in the Dayton area, and hospitals and health departments began administering the shots just in time for Christmas to health care workers and first responders.

For months, demand far outweighed supply as Ohio and the country rationed doses, prioritizing essential workers and high-risk groups like the elderly. A year later that has slowed to a trickle.

The Dayton Daily News asked nine area county health departments about where their communities stand with getting vaccinated a year later and their plans for getting more shots into arms.

“We’re a little bit stumped about what to do next,” Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said. “Social media, politics and just overall skepticism of the government has led to an unprecedented vaccine hesitancy, which has been very, very difficult to overcome.”

Many residents believe their previous infection with COVID-19 gives them sufficient immunity, area health commissioners also said. Coronavirus vaccines provide more effective and longer lasting immunity than a previous infection, according to several studies.

Meanwhile, coronavirus hospitalizations, primarily among the unvaccinated, have hit levels statewide not seen since January, straining health care systems again. Of the 317 COVID-19 patients hospitalized at Premier Health and Kettering Health hospitals on Thursday, 87% were not vaccinated, according to the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association.

Still, every day, hundreds of area residents get their first dose — including 987 people in our nine-county region on Wednesday. Lindsey Martin, 30, of Dayton was among the 36 people who got their first shot of the Pfizer vaccine at the Dayton Convention Center that day.

“I was skeptical,” she said. “I haven’t done my own research. I was just kind of taking everybody’s opinion about it. And I didn’t really think that there was enough time to see if there’s any major issues with it. But here we are. I guess I’m trusting it.”

Martin said she was pushed to get the vaccine by her family requiring it to attend holiday gatherings. After missing Thanksgiving, Martin wants to see her family, particularly her grandmother on Christmas.

Here’s where our local counties stand with vaccinations:

Butler County: 52% fully vaccinated

In Butler County, over 58% of the approximately 390,000 county residents have gotten at least one dose, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Butler County Health Commissioner Erik Balster said he’s pleased that many older residents have been vaccinated. Like the rest of the state, the county’s vaccination rate of residents 60 and older is upwards of 80%, while the vaccination rate of those younger than 30 is less than 50%.

“So a lot of those individuals that we were really worried about early on due to having multiple health issues, as well as advanced age, now have a protection they didn’t have throughout all 2020. I think that’s a real positive,” he said. “There’s still certainly work to be done.”

While younger people are less likely to contract severe illness, they can still be more likely to spread the virus if they’re unvaccinated, Balster said.

“There’s a group of people that are hesitant to get it for a variety of reasons,” he said. “They have questions about the necessity of it, and some have misconceptions about the abilities or intent of the vaccine … We can continue to help that by listening to their concerns and trying to offer them the best information we have so they can make a more informed decision.”

Butler County Health Department will continue to partner with schools and other local institutions to get more people vaccinated as well as keep people informed about the availability of and facts about the vaccines.

Champaign County: 41% fully vaccinated

About 43% of Champaign County’s 39,000 residents have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine.

Champaign County Health Commissioner Gabe Jones said it’s been a struggle to keep up the pace of vaccinations the county saw at the beginning of the rollout.

“It’s just an educational effort, an advertising effort, doing as much as we can to try to be as accommodating as we can for the community,” he said. “A lot of people just in general have questions about the vaccine, the safety and the efficacy.”

Clark County: 48% fully vaccinated

In Clark County, about 52% of its 136,000 residents have started their coronavirus vaccine series.

Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said the county is in the middle of the pack in terms of vaccination rates.

“We are a little bit more mixed here in Clark as far as politics,” he said. “In addition to that, we’re lower than some other counties in our vaccination rates, because in many parts of the state, you see a very clear delineation between rich counties and poor counties … So if you look at counties like Delaware County, Warren County, who are traditionally the richer counties, that are traditionally the ‘healthiest’ counties in Ohio, you’ll see that we don’t stack up to them in our vaccination rates and that socio-economic factors have a lot to do with that.”

Patterson said the health department has attempted to make the vaccine as accessible as possible, including by providing transportation and moving its vaccination clinic to the south end of Springfield, where more of the impoverished ZIP codes are.

“Access is not one of the biggest issues,” he said. “It’s making that decision to want the vaccine. We’ve had a $100 gift incentive, sponsored by the state. We’ve participated in basically everything that the state’s thrown out there. We have put out countless posts and and other communications about how people can get a shot and what the incentives are.”

Darke County: 36% fully vaccinated

In the least vaccinated of area counties, Darke County, about 38% of its 52,000 residents have gotten their first dose.

“We’re in the upper 30s (percent), which I’d much rather see a lot higher,” Darke County Health Commissioner Terrence Holman said. “We’re a fairly conservative county. So all in all, that’s probably fairly good for the county. It’s been politicized so much. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about the vaccine and COVID. So there’s a lot of resistance to joining in on vaccination … It’s one of the top agricultural counties in the state. I think that all plays into the fact.”

Difficulty accessing the vaccine isn’t a problem anymore — the desire isn’t there, Holman said. The department continues to advertise its clinics and offer inventive gift cards.

Greene County: 52% fully vaccinated

About 56% of Greene County’s 168,000 residents have gotten at least one dose.

Greene County Health Commissioner Melissa Howell said about 50 new adults in the county decide to get vaccinated each week.

“Our strategy for increasing vaccination is to provide opportunities to be vaccinated, share information about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, share information how and where to sign up, answer the questions people have, dispel misinformation, share the facts about the seriousness of the disease, explain the side effects of the vaccine, share information with our partner agencies and listen to people,” she said. “What works for each sector and each community can vary, so we strategize with businesses, schools, universities, first responders and health care depending on their needs.”

Miami County: 44% fully vaccinated

Of Miami County’s 109,000 residents, 47% have started their coronavirus vaccine series.

Like many other counties, it is seeing a discrepancy in vaccination rates between localities. According to Miami County Public Health, 64% of residents in Tipp City have started their vaccinations, compared with 54% of Troy residents and 41% of Piqua residents.

A statement from the health department said, “Like many areas, Miami County was strong when vaccinations first became available. Now, a year later the number of people getting vaccinated has slowed down. We have, however, seen an increase in the number of people getting their booster shots. This, along with the 5- to 11-year-old age group now eligible for vaccination, is encouraging.”

Montgomery County: 51% fully vaccinated

In the most populous area county, Montgomery County, about 56% of its 537,000 residents have gotten at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

An unprecedented number of people have been vaccinated in a relatively short period of time, Montgomery County Health Commissioner Jennifer Wentzel said.

“However, we are still not where we want to be with respect to the total number of people being vaccinated, particularly those under the age of 30,” she said. “Public Health will continue to fill the gap in vaccine availability by concentrating on populations that are currently underserved, such as minorities, individuals experiencing homelessness, and those living in congregate settings. Public Health will also continue its minority outreach program and general education efforts to promote the safety and effectiveness of the current vaccines. In addition, our call center is available to answer the public’s questions around COVID-19 and vaccinations.”

Montgomery County is home to the region’s largest Black population, which lags behind white and Asian people in terms of vaccination rates. About 44% of Black county residents have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, compared to 53% of white residents and 73% of Asian residents.

People of color and those with lower socio-economic status had worse health outcomes before the pandemic due to longstanding racial and economic disparities, Wentzel said, and COVID-19 made those inequities more apparent.

Preble County: 38% fully vaccinated

In Preble County, another rural county with a low vaccination rate, about 41% of its 41,000 residents have gotten at least one shot.

The county’s vaccination rate is steady, Preble County Health Commissioner Joshua Lucas said, but at a much slower rate than surrounding counties.

“There is less demand for the COVID-19 vaccine from Preble County Public Health because either residents are going elsewhere or they are not interested,” he said. “Preble County Public Health will continue to ramp up messaging through social media platforms and our website to encourage the Preble County community to get the COVID-19 vaccine from any vendor that offers the vaccine.”

Warren County: 58% fully vaccinated

One of Ohio’s wealthiest and most educated counties, Warren County consistently scores higher marks in measures of health than surrounding counties. It is the most vaccinated of area counties with about 63% of its 242,000 residents having received at least one dose.

“We’re a very well educated county, so I think people are able to look at the science and understand the science behind vaccinations and behind how the COVID vaccine was created,” Warren County Health Commissioner Duane Stansbury said. “They also have a primary care provider, so they have easy access to contact their doctor.”

Warren County sees a discrepancy in its vaccination rates between more urban and more rural areas.

“The percentages were higher in the Mason-Deerfield-area, the Springboro area, verses when you start getting out into the eastern farming country of Warren County,” Stansbury said.

The Warren County Combined Health District continues to do outreach to let people know they’re willing to answer questions about the vaccine.

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