Canadian County health leaders battle vaccine hesitancy

Half of county's eligible residents fully jabbed; COVID cases tick up

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Don Blose

By Conrad Dudderar
Staff Writer

Some 49.6% of eligible Canadian County residents – including 77.3% of people 65 and over – have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

But with a recent uptick in active COVID cases across the region and Oklahoma ranked 41st of 50 states nationally in vaccination rates, Canadian County health leaders are imploring anyone who hasn’t been jabbed to think again.

“It’s really disappointing to me to see the vaccine hesitancy at such a high level,” said Yukon’s Don Blose, who served 12 years as Oklahoma’s state immunization director. “Politics has a lot to do what that. This is the moment where everybody needs to put politics aside – and put you and your family first.”

This has become a pandemic among unvaccinated populations, the former state health official added.

“That should be a real concern for people, especially those ‘on the fence’ about being vaccinated,” Blose said. “I know there are other people who just don’t want to get vaccinated – and they have their reasons.”

In Oklahoma, some 1.59 million people have gotten two doses. That’s 40.1% of the state’s 3.4 million population, well below the U.S. average of 49.8%.

“This is the time and moment for people to really reconsider the vaccine because the Delta variant is increasing,” said Blose, the CEO of Spanish Cove Retirement Village in Yukon. “Today we have over 10,000 active (COVID) cases in Oklahoma. A month ago, we had less than 1,300 total active cases.”

“We’re seeing a new explosion in disease rates. This one is spreading rapidly, and we have a lot of people in the hospital right now; 99% of those are unvaccinated folks. We have more children in the hospital right now, so it’s very concerning.”

Maggie Jackson

There were 176 active COVID-19 cases in Canadian County on July 28, according to Canadian County Health Department spokesman Maggie Jackson.

On July 27, there were 24 new reported cases in Canadian County. Just six weeks earlier, there were 5 new reported cases.

A recent “surge” in cases has occurred among the 18-35 and 12-17 age groups, who have the lowest vaccination rates.

“The vaccine protects you from COVID,” said Jackson, the CCHD’s community engagement and planning director. “You’re less likely to get infected, to have severe illness or to die.

“If you are vaccinated, you are 3-1/2 times less likely to get infected. And hospitalizations are very rare among people who have been vaccinated.”

While Canadian County’s vaccination rates are slightly higher than more rural areas, the CCHD spokeswoman said they are “still lower than we were expecting.”

“Where less people are vaccinated, the new Delta variant is spreading,” she warned. “We believe it is twice as contagious as the previous strain. It has come to our county.

“The majority of new infections come from that variant.”

WHAT ABOUT MASKS …

Meanwhile, Jackson and Blose encourage Canadian County residents – particularly those in “vulnerable” populations – to follow new Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance.

This includes wearing face coverings in public when indoors and in large groups.

“Wearing masks in a public setting is recommended,” Jackson said. “It provides an extra layer of protection.”

As a former public health official, Blose said he doesn’t like the way this disease has been politicized – causing a “bad conundrum” for emergency response from the start. He urged citizens to follow the advice of doctors, nurses, public health agencies, and the CDC.

“It’s appropriate that we do what we can to protect ourselves,” Blose added. “Even if you’ve had two (COVID) doses, it’s not a 100% guarantee you’re not going to get sick. There’s no vaccine out there that is 100% effective.

“We’ve had a few ‘break-though’ cases occurring in Oklahoma where people that have received both doses have become COVID positive. They’ve had symptoms and are getting sick. If you get a break-through case, you can spread the disease to others.”

The CCHD is working with Canadian County’s school districts – which face another challenging year – to make vaccinations available to any student who wants one. More “mobile” vaccine efforts are planned.

The county health department’s Yukon and El Reno offices, health care providers and pharmacies offer the COVID-19 vaccine without appointments. Walk-ins are welcome.

Anyone 12 years and above is eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine; those 18 and up can get Johnson & Johnson or Moderna vaccines.

These vaccines are about 95% effective, CCHD’s Jackson noted.

“We do have some COVID-19 cases for people who have been vaccinated,” she said. “Vaccination is still the best way to have less severe symptoms, less people in the hospital and less deaths.”

The CCHD also plans suicide prevention training for school personnel.

“Minor” sick visits are offered at no costs on Mondays at the Yukon office. Call (405) 354-4872 to make an appointment.

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A DEVASTATING DISEASE

Statistics show about 1 in 10 people nationally have been infected with COVID-19. At least that’s what the reported data indicates.

“This is a devastating disease,” Blose said. “Most people may have mild symptoms and a huge portion have been asymptomatic that didn’t even know they were sick.”

There have been more than 600,000 COVID-related deaths in the U.S. with about 7,500 in Oklahoma, according to the state health department’s July 29th data. There have been 191 deaths in Canadian County.

“Those are the ‘known’ ones,” Blose noted. “There’s a lot that are unknown or unconnected.

“If we don’t get a handle on this disease now, it’s just going to continue to circulate and it’s going to continue to mutate. And it’s going to be just like influenza where we’re going to have to get an annual vaccination into the future. If we do well, we can hopefully eradicate this disease.”

At Spanish Cove – Yukon’s largest retirement community – some 99% of residents and 76% of employees are fully vaccinated. There have been a couple recent break-through cases there.

“Anytime you’re going out in the public, in an indoor space with a lot of people – the grocery stores, the movie theaters, the restaurants – you’re at risk for exposure,” Blose said.

Residents who leave the Spanish Cove campus are advised to wear masks as a precaution, especially when indoors or in large gatherings.

“Those who are older are particularly more vulnerable if they get sick,” Blose said.

Positive COVID-19 cases at INTEGRIS Canadian Valley Hospital in Yukon have increased in recent weeks – with most being unvaccinated patients, chief hospital executive Teresa Gray said.

Bed space is full in the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU) and intermediate care unit (IMCU).

Read more next week in the print and online editions of The Yukon Progress.