By Larimer County Public Health Director Tom Gonzales, MPH, REHS
In Larimer County, cases of COVID-19 have significantly decreased in recent weeks, reducing the strain on our local hospitals, allowing us to gather with our friends and loved ones again, and helping to strengthen our economy. In May alone, COVID-19 cases decreased 70%, thanks to vaccination.
In less than 6 months, over 352,300 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been received by Larimer County residents. This incredible work has been provided by a team of 19 vaccine providers working to distribute the vaccine in an equitable manner. 58% of our community members ages 16 and up are fully vaccinated. In less than a month of being eligible to receive the vaccine, 36% of 12-15 year olds have already received their first dose. Through large fixed vaccination sites like Moby Area and mobile pop-up clinics in rural areas, churches, community centers, correctional facilities, locations for those experiencing homelessness, and small local grocery stores, the Health Department alone has given over 30,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine this year.
While we are just shy of reaching Larimer County’s goal for 65% of residents over age 16 having received at least one dose by May 25th, we understood that even with the overwhelming demand for COVID-19 vaccines a few months ago, we would hit a point in our community where vaccination demand slowed. We are starting to lose momentum, and this should raise concerns for all of us.
In April, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that about 30% of those who haven’t received a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine do not plan to get vaccinated. However, 21 percent say they plan to get vaccinated as soon as possible, 35 percent say they will wait and see, 14 percent say they will only get the vaccine if it is required.
We are still learning the number of people that need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before a return to a pre-pandemic lifestyle, however, experts agree that in order to keep COVID-19 infections down without restrictions on activities, we’ll need well over 70% of the entire population to be immune, either by recovering from COVID-19 infection or through getting vaccinated. But this level depends on whether or not we’ll see more infectious variants and how people, particularly those not yet immune, interact with each other. One thing that is clear from real world data is that the more people vaccinated, the better.
Larimer County businesses are helping to lead the way to increase vaccination rates, by either requiring or encouraging employees to get vaccinated and offering incentives like paid time off, special events for fully vaccinated employees, and other compensation strategies. Many local businesses in Larimer County have partnered with us to host onsite mobile vaccine clinics for the public, and in some cases, even throw in a free beer.
Employers can play an important role in increasing COVID-19 vaccine uptake, and they’re smart to do so. One of the greatest benefits of a vaccinated workforce is that fully vaccinated employees generally do not need to quarantine if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19, reducing costs due to missed work and improving productivity.
Currently, everyone 12 years of age and older is eligible to be vaccinated and COVID-19 vaccines are widely available in Larimer County. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. After receiving a vaccine, there may be mild side effects, but these are normal. It takes about 2 weeks after a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or a second dose of either Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, for a person to have full immunity from the virus.
Every person who gets a COVID-19 vaccine helps to end the pandemic and this supports the full economic recovery of our local businesses, and the sooner the better. My biggest concern right now is that there won’t be enough people vaccinated come fall and winter and we won’t be able to prevent another surge of cases like we saw in November and December. To keep our case rate low, widespread vaccine uptake among all parts of the population, in all areas of the county, is essential.
Please, if you are considering getting vaccinated but have been waiting, make a plan today. If you have a friend or family member on the fence about vaccination, offer to go with them to get their shot. Employers, consider requiring or encouraging your staff to get vaccinated and offering incentives and reaching out to my team at the Health Department if you want to host an onsite clinic. More information can be found at www.larimer.org/covidvaccine or by calling 970-498-5500 during the week. Together, we can do this.