COVID-19 Rises Again in Undervaccinated Ohio – Community News
Covid-19

COVID-19 Rises Again in Undervaccinated Ohio

The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content sharing agreement.

COVID-19 cases rise again in the 10e least vaccinated state in the country.

State data shows infection rates are rising and workloads are rising again in hospitals, where more than 2,700 Ohio residents are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

An analysis of state data shows that 11 months after the vaccine’s rollout, the ground is still fertile for outbreaks across Ohio. Of the 88 counties in the state of Buckeye, only Delaware (71% vaccinated) surpasses the national vaccination rate of 68.5%. In 58 provinces, less than half of the population is vaccinated, according to Sunday data.

Ranked by state, Ohio (56% vaccinated) is the 10e the least vaccinated in the country, according to data from The New York Times.

In Henry County, a rural swath of northwest Ohio, COVID-19 is spreading at more than twice the statewide rate of about 400 infections per 100,000 residents. About 52% of the inhabitants are vaccinated. Health Commissioner Joy Ermie said the spread is not specific to an outbreak or location, it just swims through homes and social events of mostly unvaccinated people.

“The faster we turn this around, the faster we’ll see a decrease in our cases,” she said. “It’s going to be a perpetual cycle if we don’t increase our overall vaccination rate.”

Public health workers in provinces besieged by the coronavirus said in interviews for this article that it is time to accept that COVID-19 is likely to persist here somehow, without a paradigm shift about vaccination.

Several pointed to a circular pattern in vaccination; the unvaccinated generally remain unvaccinated. The vaccinated people strengthen their immune system with booster doses.

“I would absolutely love to say that COVID is over in X [number of] months,” Ermie said. “But I’m much more confident that we need to take our energy away from, ‘How is this going to end?’ to ‘How can we learn to live with it?’”

Gavin Smits receives a first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

Federal authorities approved the use of vaccines in children ages 5-11 earlier this month, which is likely to boost vaccination coverage to some degree. In Seneca County, in north-central Ohio, a population of about 55,000 people, about 47% of the population has been vaccinated. The county’s number of cases is nearly double the national average.

About 20 children were vaccinated in a clinic last Tuesday evening, according to provincial health commissioner Anne Goon. She said there has been no crazy rush with vaccines, but she was happy with Tuesday’s crowd.

She said adults in the community are stocked with vaccines, masks, and various infection control policy responses to the pandemic. Some parents have refused to test their children after being exposed to the coronavirus in school, she said, even if it’s necessary for an extracurricular sport.

“We have a section of our population that just doesn’t think COVID is real,” Goon said. “That it’s just a hoax.”

for dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, Ohio’s top physician and director of the state’s health department, the state is “approaching” a point in the pandemic where coronavirus is becoming more of a nuisance than a threat to the common good. We’re not there yet, though, as the extra-transmissible delta strain of the coronavirus “seeks relentlessly” for the unvaccinated, he said.

“In some circumstances, the root cause of what we’re seeing is low vaccination coverage in some communities,” he said. “So we must continue to focus on the importance of vaccination.”

Vanderhoff, who spoke to reporters Friday, offered a more optimistic view of Ohio’s vaccination rate. Among Ohio adults, more than 2 in 3 have now received at least one dose of vaccination. The COVID-19 vaccination rate, he said, has surpassed the number of Ohio residents who receive their annual flu shot. It pales in comparison to vaccination against diseases like measles or polio, but those vaccines have been around longer and are (usually) required by law to be enrolled in school.

Despite Vanderhoff’s optimism, hospital admissions for COVID-19 have increased in all age groups in the past week. For people aged 30-39, who are less vaccinated than their older counterparts, hospital admissions increased by 48% over that period. More than 2,700 Ohio residents are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, up from fewer than 2,200 earlier this month.

John Palmer, a spokesperson for the Ohio Hospital Association, said the nationwide count of COVID-19 patients has recently increased by about 60 patients per day.

“Hospitals are operating at high capacity levels with staffing challenges and any increase will have a devastating impact leading to disruption of access to health care for communities,” he said. “Despite three safe, approved and effective vaccines available today to stop this virus, we continue to see the spread and it is frustrating to respond to a virus that is preventable.”

All told, in about 20 pandemic months, more than 25,600 Ohio residents have died from COVID-19, part of the 762,000 deaths in the US. More than 82,000 Ohio residents have been hospitalized, including more than 10,000 who required ICU care. As many as 1.6 million Ohio residents are infected with COVID-19.

Data on infections that ‘break through’ the protection of the vaccines are limited, but available evidence suggests it is rare. CDC research shows that vaccination reduces the risk of infection by a factor of five; the vaccines are between 88% and 93% effective in preventing hospitalization; and months of data show there is no increased risk of death among vaccine recipients. As of January 1 in Ohio, less than 5% of people who have been hospitalized or died from COVID-19 have been vaccinated.

Mark Cameron, an immunologist at Case Western Reserve University, is not surprised by the resurgence of COVID-19. Even highly vaccinated states like Vermont (82% vaccine started) are struggling with outbreaks. In Ohio, cold weather makes respiratory viruses spread better and prompts people to gather indoors rather than outdoors.

“It is absolutely unacceptable to operate in a room where 50-60% of people are not vaccinated,” he said.

He expressed frustration at a sense of public complacency as the coronavirus subsides, and an unwillingness to recognize the predictable patterns of disease spread based on low vaccination coverage, weather and human behaviour.

“I don’t know what to say uniquely at this point,” he said. “Here we risk a new impact on our holiday season through illness, hospitalization and death.”