The effort to vaccinate Oregonians for COVID-19 is facing a major hurdle as the summer months approach. Some rural counties in Oregon are reporting an excess of vaccine appointments at mass vaccination sites and local providers.
This indicates supply has outpaced demand as some people express vaccine hesitancy and others simply haven't prioritized or been informed about booking vaccinations.
In Yamhill County, this issue is starting to rear its head as county officials estimate nearly 50% of residents have received at least one shot. In order to reach herd immunity, scientific experts estimate between 70% and 85% of the population needs to be fully vaccinated.
A poll conducted by NPR/Marist College in early April found that 1 in 4 Americans say they will not get the COVID vaccine even if they are offered one, and those numbers are even higher among residents of rural areas.
"This is the first week we are beginning to see a slowdown of our large event links, which are filling up much slower than in weeks past," said Lindsey Manfrin, Yamhill County Health and Human Services director, on April 28. "This comes at a time when we have about 45% of those in Yamhill County having had at least one dose. We are still exploring the cause of this.
"While some of it may be due to lack of confidence in the vaccine, we also know there are populations of people who are looking for a more convenient way or place to get the vaccine, so we are working on increasing the number of small mobile clinics in the community. These have worked very well over the course of the last few months, and we are excited to increase them."
Manfrin said the county is working with community partners such as Unidos Bridging Community, YCAP, Virginia Garcia and other providers to get information about vaccines out to the community. Much of the lack of vaccination so far exists in underserved communities that may not have access to the same information as their white, well-off neighbors. Communities of color have expressed myriad historic reasons why they mistrust vaccines and/or medical providers.
But the group that outright refuses the vaccine most, according to the NPR/Marist poll, tends to be Republican men, who are overwhelmingly white and often live in rural areas like much of Yamhill County. Conspiracies and misinformation about the available vaccines have spread unabated on social media, creating an additional obstacle for health officials as they try to get as many people vaccinated as possible to bring the pandemic to heel.
The federal emergency use authorization granted to the three vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson — can only come after meeting rigorous safety standards laid out by the FDA. While the FDA did briefly pause the use of the one-shot J&J vaccine over concerns about blood clots, only 15 people as of April 23 have developed the rare condition out of roughly 7 million doses administered, a rate of 0.0002%. Even if the rare blood clots are linked directly to the J&J vaccine, which hasn't yet been proven, people are 31 times more likely to be hit by lightning in their lifetime than to develop this rare condition after vaccination.
The temporary pause on the one-shot J&J vaccine, which lasted less than two weeks, had a minor impact on countywide vaccination efforts.
"The initial impact was holding 750 doses, which we needed to replace with Moderna vaccine that was in the following week's allocation and shipment, which meant we had fewer doses to provide that week," Manfrin said. "Luckily, we did not need to postpone or cancel any events. We are continuing use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and have found that there is still a group of people in the community who are specifically seeking that vaccine out."
The county has made equitable distribution of the vaccine a priority and has poured resources into outreach to underserved communities, particularly the Hispanic community, which represents the largest minority group in the county.
Partnerships with entities like Unidos and Virginia Garcia have helped with that, but there is still more work to be done. Among the solutions that public health officials say will help reach underserved communities are walk-in vaccine clinics, which are beginning to pop up throughout the county as more vaccine becomes available.
"We have done a few of these (walk-in clinics) already at specific locations with targeted groups," Manfrin said. "We've had one in Dayton and another at the Cooperative Ministries in McMinnville. As we see the demand and supply change, we intend to gradually move away from the large mass-vaccination events and instead have walk-in smaller events throughout the community. Our COVID Vaccine Advisory Group, the cities, schools and other community partners have been great at helping us identify locations."
For more information on the county's vaccine effort, visit www.hhs.co.yamill.or.us. Statewide information is available at www.covidvaccine.oregon.gov, and those interested in finding a vaccine in their area can search for local providers at www.vaccinefinder.org — a helpful tool for those looking to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
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