COVID-19 vaccination efforts ratchet up in Pennsylvania amid latest case surge

Written by on October 7, 2021

COVID-19 vaccination efforts ratchet up in Pennsylvania amid latest case surge

“Because school is back in session, we really want to try to make sure that we’re helping that 12 to 17 age group.”

By Sam Dunklau / WITF

October 7, 2021

FILE – In this Jan. 15, 2021, file photo, Dr. Yomaris Pena, Internal Medicine Physician with Somos Community Care at a COVID-19 extracts the Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine out of a vial at a vaccination site at the Corsi Houses in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

Though COVID-19 vaccines have been widely available for months, Pennsylvania health authorities are pushing to get more people vaccinated.

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Nearly 70 percent of the state’s adult population is fully vaccinated according to Department of Health data collected by WITF. But just 58 percent of those 12 years and older are in the same category. The Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved doses for children under 12, but has signaled that it might soon.

“Because school is back in session, we really want to try to make sure that we’re helping that 12 to 17 age group,” Kim Craig of the Hamilton Health Center in Harrisburg said during a news conference Wednesday.

The clinic, with a location just east of downtown, is among those ratcheting up efforts to reach those who have not yet received their shots. Though health workers there estimate they’ve vaccinated around 2,000 people since the shots became available, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bolanle Limann said there are still plenty of holdouts.

“Those who already have vaccine appointments are coming…but on average, each provider is seeing one to two patients every day who have not been vaccinated,” she said. “There are still multiple people in our community who remain unvaccinated today.”

The push is growing particularly urgent as state Health Department data from the last few weeks shows thousands of school children across Pennsylvania are contracting COVID-19. More than 7,300 kids between 5 and 18 years old tested positive for COVID in a single week last month, up from about 750 at the same time last year.

Limann said urging more people who are eligible to get their shots will help drive down those cases. To do so, she said she takes the time to dispel myths about the vaccine when she sees patients at the clinic, and has developed what she calls a spiel to answer whatever questions they have.

“I give a very quick spiel about the five main ingredients [in the vaccine],” Limann said. “They have questions about how it became available so quickly, and I talk about the coronavirus being in existence for multiple years…and that simply this strain is new.”

Health workers at Hamilton have been taking vaccines directly to those in and around Harrisburg via a mobile clinic. The center is also putting on a vaccination drive on Saturday, complete with a DJ and food for those who receive a shot.

“That [mobile clinic] is allowing us to reach those who are unable to get to us,” Kim Craig said. “We will come to you. You call us, we’ll help you get your vaccines.”

Gov. Tom Wolf, who visited the health center Wednesday to promote its efforts, said the statewide school masking order put in place by the Department of Health will stay in effect as long as cases are high and until vaccines are available to those younger than 12.

The governor said despite the rise in cases, he’s upbeat about the state’s ability to get COVID-19 under control given the number of people who have already volunteered to be vaccinated.

“I think ultimately most people will be persuaded to get the vaccine,” Wolf said.

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