With less than 30% of Lycoming County residents vaccinated, medical experts say it’s unlikely the county will reach herd immunity.
In Pennsylvania, just over 30% of the population has been vaccinated and, in Lycoming County, 29% has been vaccinated.
To reach herd immunity, studies show that at least 70% of county residents would need to be vaccinated, according to Dr. Rutul Dalal, infectious disease expert with UPMC. But, Dalal added, even 40% vaccinated may help.
“New studies have shown that 40-50% of people who are immune would be enough to help reach the tipping point, or to show a decrease. However, this new percentage range would not fully stop COVID-19, but help contain it and its variants,” Dalal said.
Low vaccine demand
Hesitation over the vaccine is nothing new to many in Northcentral Pennsylvania, or across the country. A March survey showed that nearly 50% of Americans show vaccine hesitancy due to side effects, while roughly one-third don’t trust the government and still others simply don’t like vaccines in general.
The group Let’s End COVID, based out of Lycoming County, has been working to raise awareness about vaccine locations and research side effects, according to Barbara Hemmendinger, a member of the group.
Hemmendinger compiles weekly lists of vaccine numbers in the region and talks with area medical centers on a regular basis.
“As I would talk to vaccine providers, I would find out which ones were busy and which ones were starting to see a drop off,” Hemmendinger said. “It became very apparent that the supply in our area is much greater than the demand.”
Hemmendinger said she understands the concern over the vaccine and added that each person should assess their own risk level, research and talk to their doctor.
But she added that more education is still important. Retired from a medical career and a member of the Lycoming County Health Improvement Coalition, Hemmendinger is in her 70s and has severe allergies.
Ultimately, though, she believed the chance of developing side effects was less daunting than the probability of contracting COVID.
“Your risk of getting COVID and having long-term heart or breathing problems afterwards – There is a known risk of that – which outweighs the risk of taking the vaccine,” she said.
She went to Jersey Shore for her vaccination and kept her EpiPen close by.
Details in the data
Data collected in Lycoming County shows that 20% more women than men choose to take the vaccine. In addition, 26% of Caucasians are vaccinated, compared with 16% of African Americans and 5% of Asians.
Other county data indicates just over 22,000 whites and 686 Blacks have been vaccinated. An additional 8,000 people who either are multiracial or whose race is unknown were also vaccinated.
“As more and more people get vaccinated …some of the people who are worried (or) undecided, maybe they will change their minds,” Hemmendinger said.
Most counties surrounding Lycoming County have even fewer vaccinated residents. Clinton County shows 9,600, Sullivan County shows 1,600 and Tioga County shows 9,400 fully vaccinated.
Dalal, who has been UPMC’s leading expert in the state on COVID-19 research, said that, so far, 44% of the United States’ population has received at least one dose and 31% are fully vaccinated.
If the community reaches 50%, there will be a reduction in hospitalizations and deaths, he added.
“The biggest takeaway is to not just focus on numbers, but to just get vaccinated,” Dalal said.