As of Monday morning, over a third of eligible Barton County residents were fully vaccinated for COVID-19, but for a myriad of reasons, it grows more challenging to find folks wanting the jabs, Health Director Karen Winkelman told the County Commission Monday morning.
She understands the hesitancy, and said better communication is needed encourage the reluctant. This means being willing to discuss the vaccine and disclose one’s own positive vaccination experience.
“I think we just need to respect people – those who maybe choose not to – for whatever reason,” she said. “But don’t be afraid to have those conversations for our community, for ourselves, for our families.”
Since March 1, the county has had 39 positive cases, and that age range has been between two years and 91 years, Winkelman said. Of those, four of them have had COVID two times, and one was positive after being fully vaccinated (but they had a mild case).
“If we look at the highest age group of positive cases in Kansas, it is between 18 and 44 which takes about 46% of the total cases,” she said. “That brings to mind that maybe we have some work to do as far as just talking with people, and not being afraid to have that conversation, calmly, maybe privately.”
Some people are offended if you bring up vaccinations in a group setting, but one-on-one might be different, she said. She visited with a hesitant individual Saturday morning during the Cinco de Mayo shot clinic who had been hospitalized for a life-threatening case of COVID but was deathly afraid of the vaccine.
“So, we stepped to the side, had a good conversation, and this individual proceeded forward and got the first vaccine,” she said.
Be willing to talk
Winkelman herself received the vaccine during its testing phase.
“We need to talk about our own vaccination status,” she said. “I am not afraid to talk about that in the fall, I decided to be part of a clinical study for a COVID vaccine.”
She felt that after what they were going through, it was the least she could do. “I really wasn’t too afraid to do it,” she said.
She didn’t know whether it was a placebo or a vaccine, but did feel a little achy after the second dose, and she later learned she had received a small dose of the actual vaccine.
But, she said they kept rigorous records and communicated regularly.
After this, on Dec. 21, 2020, when they got the vaccine in the department “I was the second one in Barton county to be vaccinated through our department and not afraid whatsoever.”
She said she believes that trial dose helped keep her safe early in the pandemic. Although she wore protective gear, they tested a lot of positive and very sick people, and throughout that time she is not aware of ever having caught the virus.
Now, health experts are talking boosters. “When boosters become available, I’ll be there because I have seen some really sick people” and understand the importance.
“I agree with you that sometimes people just need to step up,” District 5 Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said. “If you are a person who has some visibility in the community, I think sometimes people look to you and say ‘well gosh, if you did it and it’s okay for you, then maybe it’s okay for me.’ I’ve had mine and I am not even wearing a mask in here, so I’m feeling better about things.”
There is talk about the Centers for Disease and Control relaxing mask guidelines, but Winkelman said folks should remain careful.
“I think there’s always going to be situations where masks would still be recommended. If you’re not feeling well, if you’re going to be in a crowd of immuno-compromised people, or you’re immuno-compromised yourself, I think it’s just a good practice.”
County COVID by the numbers
The Health Department has now administered 10,210 doses, with 138 of those being within the last week, Winkelman said. They gave 27 during the Cinco De Mayo event Saturday.
“At this time, we still have an adequate supply on hand,” she said.
They are still waiting for that approval to use the Pfizer vaccine on those the age 12 and older. They have administered a few in those 16 through 18 years old.
There were seven new positive cases in the past week with five active quarantine recommendations as of Monday morning with another one pending. The department tested approximately five people over the week and they continue testing on a case-by-case basis.
In Barton County, the total number of positive cases stands at 2,511 with 48 deaths reported by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
The testing is less than 5% positivity. “So that is a very good thing,” she said.
The KDHE noted that 39.2% of Kansans have received at least one those. In Barton County, the rate is 32% that have at least received one of dose.
If they look at the eligible population (age 16 and above) – for one dose, the county is at 40.4% with one dose and 35.2% with two.
The KDHE website continues to be updated three times a week.
So far, no variants have been identified in the county.
The department continues to provide the vaccine on a walk-in basis. “So, regardless of what time of day an individual presents, we’re going to capture them while they’re there if, even if that means opening a new vial and, at the expense of wasting it. We will provide whichever (vaccine) want.
The next Saturday vaccine distribution is set for the June Jaunt event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 1 at the Courthouse Square in Great Bend.