Health Dept. pushing for herd immunity | Local News Stories | – The Capital Journal

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The South Dakota Department of Health hasn’t hit a wall when it comes to getting people vaccinated for COVID-19, but State Epidemiologist Dr. Joshua Clayton said this is the time to redouble efforts to reach herd immunity.

As of Friday morning, the Health Department reported 589,303 vaccines administered statewide, covering 328,144 people. The state also reported a 55 percent vaccination rate statewide, including aggregate data from federal agencies. The state’s goal is to reach 70 percent vaccination coverage for herd immunity.

While the state’s goal is a 70 percent vaccination rate statewide, Clayton said that 70 percent should also be at local county levels.

“You can have disparities by the county level,” he said. “Our goal is 70 percent statewide, but we will be refocusing on populations that have lower vaccination rates at the county level and in certain populations. Because we do want everybody to have that same level of protection, whether you’re talking about a county or other ways people associate or group together.”

The state reported 15,295 doses administered to 8,235 people in Hughes County, 2,276 doses to 1,219 people in Stanley County and 1,364 doses to 778 people in Lyman County. County vaccination numbers don’t include the aggregate data from federal agencies, such as distributions from the Veterans Affairs, Indian Health Services and others.

Without the 70 percent vaccination rate at local levels, Clayton said there would be pockets where coronavirus activity could persist.

“It’s very similar to the way that measles in 2019 was able to find its way into populations across the United States that had lower vaccination rates,” he said. “Sometimes it was a neighborhood, you know, where you had a large group of unvaccinated individuals. The introduction of a single case then caused a large number of cases from that. And, I think we’ll see some of that. We’re not going to get to 70 percent at the same time everywhere across the state.”

And COVID-19 doesn’t come to an end once vaccination levels reach 70 percent. Clayton said COVID-19 as a virus would be with us long-term.

“The focus here is not that we will totally due away with COVID-19, really because there’s only been one virus that we’ve been able to do that with, and it was smallpox,” he said. “But mitigating the impact of that virus is what it’s designed to do. Because, yeah, we still see measles and polio in other countries although we’ve eliminated it from the United States in past years.”

Increasing vaccination

Clayton said the state is getting vaccines into the arms of South Dakotans, but now they are looking at increasing distribution to age groups with fewer inoculations.

Clayton said people 65 and older had the highest rate in the state, but younger people are getting vaccinated at lower rates — about 40 percent for people in their 40s and 50s.

Older teens and people in their early-20s are falling even lower, with Clayton putting it at around 24 percent vaccinated with their first dose.

“I think, just off the bat, we’re looking at how do we reach out to those individuals who are younger aged, who, historically, may not have got the influenza vaccine and feel that they are either not at risk or that, through their social networks, know of people or they themselves have been ill with COVID-19 and have not been severely impacted in terms of hospitalization and seeing other individuals die,” he said.

However, he added that it’s not just for older teens through the early-20s, but it’s anyone 16-29 as a start, which historically has a lower rate of flu vaccinations.

Addressing hesitancy

The Health Department is also working to address hesitancy and misinformation as it comes up.

Health Department Communications Director Daniel Bucheli said the state is working to combat misinformation and promoting vaccination through multiple platforms.

Clayton said social media has its benefits and drawbacks when spreading or combating misinformation.

Bucheli said the state uses social media to get credible information to the public and found it an effective means to address misinformation that could impact the public’s perception about vaccines.

“When we see misinformation being popped up in the area, what we’re doing is combating the misinformation with facts and geo-fencing around that area,” he said. “So, the people are getting, you know, a specific message or whatnot, we counteract it with the facts, and we’re making sure the people that have been targeted by that, we come back and provide the right information.”

Clayton said one area the Health Department is focusing on is the vaccine’s safety.

“The vaccines are based on good science,” he said. “And making sure that people recognize that, yeah, the vaccine was made in less than a year, but that does not mean the vaccine itself is in any way faulty. And a lot of the ways things were cut back were just some of the bureaucratic red tape as opposed to the safety and looking at the data around that.”

Bucheli said the Johnson & Johnson pause is an example that the ongoing safety triggers for vaccines work.

Bucheli said people should also try to verify the information they hear from friends and family with credible sources to see if it matches the facts.

“Because sometimes it was forwarded from something that may not be refutable or may not be correct,” he said. “They may have the best of intentions, but you want to make sure it’s verified.”

And if someone still doesn’t know where to find reliable information or wants a personal touch on it, Clayton said your medical provider is always a good option for credible info on vaccinations.

“A lot of folks see their doctor for routine care, and they developed that trust relationship,” he said. “So, your medical provider is a great place to be able to get all of your questions answered without feeling like your getting it from a federal agency — which is always going to be trustworthy. But it’s nice to have that relationship that’s kind of pre-built into your decision making.”

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