As Anoka County enjoys a summer without pandemic-related restrictions, more than a third of eligible residents remain unvaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19.
With 64% of people ages 12 and up having received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, Anoka County has the lowest vaccination rate in the seven-county metro area, according to Minnesota Department of Health as of July 18. In Scott County, which has the next lowest rate, 70% of residents 12 and older have received a vaccine.
“In general I think Anoka County has more vaccine hesitancy,” Jonelle Hubbard, Anoka County’s director of public health, told ABC Newspapers.
But Hubbard said her staff is working to educate people about the vaccine and make it easy to be vaccinated. Realistically Hubbard knows a certain portion of the population will never take the vaccine, but she’s focusing on persuading as many people as possible to be vaccinated.
“Education and relationships are the two primary elements that make that successful,” she said. “And what we know is that takes time. While the numbers [of daily vaccinations] are down, our success is no longer in vaccinating 800 people a day. If we can get 25 people a day, Jonelle is happy.”
In addition to outreach at big events like the Anoka County Fair, the county has developed a vaccine bus that allows it to take staff and supplies into a community and very quickly set up a vaccination site. It has also gathered lists of large housing units in the county and is developing strategies to provide vaccine clinics in those areas.
Hubbard is especially pleased with the work her staff has done to reach communities with high social vulnerability, meaning those that tend to be at higher risk based on factors such as disability, poverty and race.
Many people who are hesitant to take a vaccine are more likely to be persuaded by leaders in their community than by a government entity, so the county is identifying and partnering with local leaders to encourage community members to get a shot. This type of outreach may include podcasts, community meetings and having trusted partners present at vaccine clinics.
“It really just helps to increase the level of comfort,” Hubbard said.
The county also offers at-home vaccination for homebound individuals and is providing weekly vaccination opportunities in the county jail, workhouse and juvenile center.
Even though the number of confirmed cases in Minnesota is low and life has largely gone back to normal for many people, health officials say vaccination remains important, especially now that the Centers for Disease Control reports the more contagious delta variant of the novel coronavirus has become dominant in the U.S.
“The variant is obviously an issue,” Hubbard said. “It’s something that we’re definitely keeping an eye on.”
But she said the good news is that for now the vaccines appear to be holding. There is more to learn, but studies have indicated fully vaccinated people have strong protection against serious illness or death from the delta variant, and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said last week that the situation is becoming a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
“Our goal is just to get as many people vaccinated as possible,” Hubbard said.
“If you are not vaccinated, that means you are still at high risk of becoming infected with COVID,” she added. “So that means you should be social distancing, you should be wearing a mask and keeping yourself safe so you are not spreading it.”
She added that if you’re sick, you should stay home, regardless of vaccination status. And if you’re unsure about getting the vaccine, she recommends learning more by visiting the Minnesota Department of Health’s website or the CDC’s website or by talking with your doctor about the vaccine and your health needs.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Anoka County has seen more than 43,000 cases of COVID-19, with more than 2,300 of those patients being hospitalized and 465 dying, according to the county’s COVID-19 statistics dashboard as of July 19.
Anoka County’s COVID-19 resource page is available at tinyurl.com/cduwzev6. The Minnesota Department of Health’s coronavirus page is at tinyurl.com/38kysus2. The CDC’s coronavirus page is at tinyurl.com/e96fe3vt.