Three months into its COVID-19 vaccination implementation plan, 34% of residents in Aitkin County have had at least one dose and 22% have had both.
In addition, 67% of residents over the age of 65 have been vaccinated. The numbers were presented by Aitkin County Public Health Supervisor Erin Melz at the March 23 health and human services portion of the Aitkin County Board meeting.
“We are not out of the woods yet,” Melz said, but “having over a third of our population vaccinated with one dose is a huge milestone.”
At this time, all medical personnel have been vaccinated, as have virtually all first responders, nursing home staff and residents, and school teachers and administrators.
Aitkin County has three vaccine providers: Aitkin County Public Health, Guidepoint Pharmacy and Riverwood Healthcare Center. Only these three providers can receive shipments of the vaccine and administer the vaccines to the community.
Communicating critical information to the public has been a challenge.
“It’s surprising how difficult it is to reach people, to let them know that they’re eligible,” Melz said. “There are still people out there that we haven’t reached and who don’t know that they’re eligible or how to find a vaccine.”
There is also still a fair amount of misinformation circulating about the vaccine itself, especially on social media.
“We’re still trying to figure out how to provide people with the most knowledge and education, so that they’re not basing their decision on inaccurate information they’re hearing from non-credible sources,” Melz said.
One common misconception is vaccine efficacy. While it’s true that they’re not 100% effective in preventing COVID-19, they are effective at preventing severe illness and hospitalization.
“So, although, yes, you may be vaccinated and still test positive, there have been no cases thus far of hospitalizations or deaths in those people who have been vaccinated,” Melz said.
Even so, “we can’t become complacent,” Melz said. “We need to continue to take precautionary measures and still be vigilant about recognizing that COVID-19 and various strains of the disease are still circulating and of concern.”
Another challenge has been the occasional shortage of the vaccine. Every week, the Minnesota Department of Health collects data on how many individuals in each county’s current target room still need to be vaccinated, and then redistributes surplus vaccines as necessary.
On the other hand, Melz has been happy about the amazing partnerships and collaborations and relationships that have been formed throughout this process.
“I’m not sure that we could have ever totally planned and prepared for something like this,” Melz said.