Mesa County isn’t at the bottom of the list of areas of the state with the lowest vaccination rates, but at 40% it’s still low enough to be concerning to local and state health officials.
That’s why state officials have targeted the county in their efforts to step up vaccination rates. But while they have identified a variety of ways, they are still looking for more.
For example, the state has dedicated one of its mobile vaccination buses to Mesa County exclusively, which will go to specific companies that request it and to specific events, such as the upcoming Country Jam in Mack.
At the same time, the state also is launching a marketing campaign aimed at low-vaccinated areas of the state with videos, mailers and telephone calls in an effort to educate people about the vaccine and the need to get it.
That campaign focuses on countering much disinformation about the vaccine, such as that it does not contain a micro- chip to track those who get it, that it does not prevent women from getting pregnant nor that there are other proven cures for the deadly virus.
Those are only some of the things the state is trying to do to boost the county’s vaccination rate, but Gov. Jared Polis came to town Tuesday to ask area medical officials and business leaders for ideas on how to do more, especially now that the Delta variant of the virus accounts for nearly all of the new infections.
“Unfortunately, Mesa County is an epicenter for the Delta variant, and we also have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the state here,” Polis told about 20 people in a roundtable discussion on the matter. “We want your ideas about how we can increase the vaccination rate and the threat that this is. We want action before it hurts the economy and hurts more people or fills up your hospitals, which are already rapidly approaching being full.”
UNVACCINATED RESIDENTS LEAD IN HOSPITALIZATIONS
Of the 420 total hospitalizations in Mesa County this year, 372, or 88%, were not vaccinated, according to the Mesa County Public Health Department. Only 24 of them were fully vaccinated, while another 24 had received only the first dose.
At the same time, of the 7,542 positive cases in the county since Jan. 1, 93% had not received even the first dose.
The department’s data shows that about 40% of residents who qualify for the vaccine — those ages 12 and up — are fully vaccinated, putting Mesa County at 22nd from the bottom of the state’s 64 counties, according to data maintained by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Counties that are lower in vaccination rates mostly on the Eastern Plains and the San Luis Valley.
The county does list higher vaccination rates among older residents, about 66% for people 60 and older, but that’s still well under the state standard. Nearly half of county residents in their 50s have received at least one dose, but those younger than 49 are at 35% or lower.
MORE VACCINES, LESS COVID-19
Rachel Herlihy, chief epidemiologist for the state who came to Grand Junction with the governor, said there’s a direct correlation between the number of new infections of the coronavirus and the number of vaccinations, saying that the higher the rate of new infections matches the lower rate of those getting the vaccine.
Herlihy said that part of the problem is that the Delta variant, first discovered in India, is 50% more contagious than the variant first found in the United Kingdom, which she said is 50% more contagious than earlier strains of the virus.
“At this point nationally, we see that about 10% of cases are due to this Delta variant, but here in Colorado it’s about 40%, and here in Mesa County it’s approaching 100%,” she said. “In addition, it causes more severe illness, so we’re seeing double the hospitalization rate with this Delta variant.”
That Delta variant first arrived in Colorado in Mesa County, where there now are 285 confirmed cases. Recent data also is showing a decrease in the efficacy of the vaccines with the Delta variant, down to about 88% effective, Herlihy said.
BRAINSTORMING WAYS TO INOCULATE MORE
Those who attended the discussion with Polis and Herlihy, which included managers of some of the county’s largest manufacturers, hospital officials and others, made a few suggestions for helping to improve the vaccination rate.
They ranged from one-on-one talks with reluctant individuals to making it much easier and convenient to get a shot.
Those talks should include such information as:
n 96% of all doctors have gotten the vaccine
n The vaccines were developed using decades of established science
n The potential long-term health impacts of contracting the virus, and personal stories from people who have had the virus or lost a loved one to it.
Many said they thought that such programs as lotteries or giveaway incentives — either done by the health department or individual employers, —weren’t working.
Some said there were three categories of those who haven’t yet gotten the vaccine: concerns over the fast-paced approval of the drug, personal reasons or religious ones.
Polis said there’s a fourth group.
“There’s people that actually plan to get it, but just haven’t gotten around to it yet,” the governor said. “It may only be another 10%, but all of our data shows they’re going to get it.”
REQUIREMENTS NOT ON THE TABLE
The governor and everyone else in the group said trying to force or require people to get the vaccine or making attempts to change their personal or religious views on vaccines were things that should never be considered.
Polis also was in town to speak at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association annual convention and sign several bills, including SB98 on the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, partly introduced by Rep. Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction, and HB1145, a bill partly sponsored by Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, to create a new license plate promoting pollinators, such as birds and insects that help fertilize plants and crops.