On April 7, Mitchell County Public Health Coordinator Jessa Ketelsen awaited the arrival of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.
She thought it was a done deal and had made plans accordingly, and that the first shots would be given April 13. At the last minute, at 7:30 that morning, the CDC called a halt to all Johnson & Johnson vaccinations.
Fast forward to April 23, and the CDC has again approved Public Health to give the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
On April 30, the first of those shots will be administered. However, fewer people than two weeks ago are interested in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, in part because of the purported side effects that delayed distribution in early April, in part because the vaccine is less efficacious.
According to estimates by the CDC, Pfizer’s and Moderna’s effectiveness was approximately 90 percent two weeks after an individual received the second shot.
The efficacy rate of the Johnson & Johnson shot is lower than the two-shot vaccines. According to the CDC, clinical trials show a rate of effectiveness between 65 and 70 percent. The rate is higher in protecting against the more severe forms of COVID-19.
However, the fact it is only one shot makes Johnson & Johnson more attractive for some people than two-shot Pfizer and Moderna.
While the delay limited the number of individuals Public Health could vaccinate, the demand for vaccines has gone down as more and more Mitchell County residents are inoculated.
Currently, the figure of those vaccinated with both shots, or the Johnson & Johnson single shot, is hovering around 3,310. Around 500 have received the first dose of Pfizer or Moderna.
Public Health has administered over 8,000 vaccines since the middle of February. The mass vaccination clinic is living up to its name. What makes it more impressive is the size of Osage and the rural makeup of the county.
“And the state has been giving us a very minimal number of vaccines,” Ketelsen said. “We were lucky to get Pfizer. We’re thankful for that.”
A month ago, Ketelsen said the mass vaccination clinic was inoculating on average 800 people a week. As more pass through its doors, that number will dwindle. While positivity rates at that time experienced a bump from Easter and Saint Patrick’s Day, Mitchell County was still lowest in Iowa.
Ketelsen believes that because more people have now been vaccinated, positivity rates have gone down. The county sits at 0.7 percent. There is one active case.
Four weeks ago, the 14-day average positivity rate was 2.8 percent. There were 16 active cases as of April 7, and Public Health was seeing on average only a couple of new cases a week.
Public Health is now averaging between 250 and 300 vaccinations per week.
“We’re dwindling down, that’s for sure,” Ketelsen said. “We’ll continue to vaccinate, but we probably won’t have as many vaccination clinics as we have been. I feel like the end is near.”
One negative Ketelsen has seen is the age limitations on shots.
While the young are generally less likely to exhibit major symptoms, they can still pass COVID-19 to at-risk populations. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are only eligible for those 18 years and older. Pfizer is only eligible for those 16 years and older.
“We have several people on our wait list who are 16 and older that want that Pfizer,” Ketelsen said. “Unfortunately, we haven’t been allocated any. If anybody calls, we do encourage them if they want it and they’re under the age of 18, we encourage them to go to a Hy-Vee – Charles City, Mason City – they have Pfizer vaccines.”
As May arrives, it is definitely another stage in the fight against the pandemic. One year ago in March, the first resident was diagnosed with COVID-19. Ketelsen was busy scrambling from business to business, attempting to mitigate the spread.
Now, over 30 percent of the population Mitchell County Public Health serves has been inoculated. For Ketelsen, that’s a year down, 70 percent to go.
Jason W. Selby is the community editor for the Mitchell Country Press News. He can be reached at 515-971-6217, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.