Waseca County Public Health Director Sarah Berry said they’re continuing to educate residents about the COVID-19 vaccines.
COVID-19 hospitalizations are down statewide and the number of confirmed cases is down, but the positivity rate is fluctuating, Berry told the Waseca County Board Tuesday. That means people are less likely to be tested for COVID-19, as well as quarantine, and the county can’t rely on the case count as solidly as it could six months ago, she said. The seriousness of the situation is improving as long as the COVID-19 variants remain predictable, she said.
“As soon as we get a variant, and it probably will happen, that creates a more severe illness and if we’re in this habit of not testing and not (quarantining), we will have a lot of people ill rapidly if we don’t have the right vaccine coverage and immunity,” Berry said. “We’re in a spot where it looks good and we’re on the right path, but there’s still some ambiguity that we want to keep an eye on.”
Slightly more than 52% of Waseca County residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine compared to 61% statewide, Berry said.
Waseca County is lagging behind its neighboring counties in the percent of residents who have been vaccinated. Berry said she’s not sure why that lag is occurring. Some of it may be due to where vaccines are available. She said Public Health staff has also heard from some Waseca County residents who weren’t aware that the vaccine was available.
Berry said she’s planning to mail vaccine information to residents so that they understand it’s available.
Waseca County Public Health doesn’t currently have any clinics scheduled to administer the first dose of the vaccine, Berry said. However, Public Health is considering holding vaccine clinics in the outlying areas of the county in June.
Residents can still receive their COVID-19 vaccine at the Thrifty White and Walmart pharmacies without needing an appointment, Berry said.. The state’s mobile COVID-19 vaccine bus will also be visiting Bird’s Eye in Waseca at 10 a.m.-2 p.m. May 26, which will be open to both Conagra workers and the public to receive their vaccine.
Only the Pfizer vaccine is authorized for ages 12-15. The pharmacies occasionally receive the Pfizer vaccine, and Hyvee, CVS and Walgreens in Owatonna and Mankato are also options to receive the Pfizer vaccine, she said.
The Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton school district requested a vaccine clinic for students and while Public Health doesn’t receive the Pfizer vaccine, the Mayo Clinic Health System is in the process of figuring out if it has enough doses for a clinic.
Commissioner DeAnne Malterer said a resident told her they were waiting until the vaccine was no longer under emergency use authorization and had gone through the standard approval process. Berry noted that some parents feel that way and they’re not sure how quickly that will happen. The information she has received indicated that standard approval could occur in the fall.
Malterer responded that her concern is that everyone wants to return to life as normal.
“Well, going back to normal in school is going to look like having a lot of kids vaccinated,” Malterer said.
Malterer said it’s going to be another “logistical nightmare” when all children older than 2 years old are cleared to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Berry said they’re preparing for school vaccination clinics when vaccine use is expanded to a wider age range of children because that will be the fastest way to vaccinate that population.
Commissioner Doug Christopherson questioned whether younger children need to be vaccinated if there’s hardly anyone hospitalized for it anymore.
“We still have measles outbreaks so yes, we do still need to vaccinate,” Berry replied. “We will still have breakthroughs and COVID will not be eradicated. It will be something we manage through vaccine and, for some period of time, through isolation and quarantine.”
Malterer said she thinks a lot of people have it in their mind that if the community can get to a certain point, COVID-19 will go away. She pointed out that large amounts of residents don’t get measles because they were vaccinated as children.
“We tend to think this is a different thing. It really isn’t. It’s a virus just like these other things we have typically vaccinated our children for,” Malterer said.