FLORENCE — Pinal County Public Health Director Tascha Spears reports that significant percentages of Pinal adults have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We have all been through a lot this past year but it looks like we are turning the corner for healthier summer months,” she said in her post. But whether the county is nearing the coveted goal of “herd immunity” is more difficult to say, she said in an interview with PinalCentral.
“I think we have to be very careful when we try to achieve certain numbers, like certain percentages. … I try to suggest maybe we don’t focus as much on the numbers.” A more useful measure might be how much active infections are down, she said.
Back in January, more than 20% of people testing for COVID-19 were positive. Lately it’s been down to 5 or 6% on a weekly basis, “which is great news,” Spears said. After thousands of cases in January, on April 29 the county was down to just 54 new cases and zero deaths, she said.
Hospitalizations in the state’s central region are better as well, with only 2.6% of beds occupied by patients with COVID-related illness. Only 2% of emergency room visits are now related to COVID.
“Those are the kinds of things I think are important for us to also look at, all of those things together,” Spears said.
Spears said the county doesn’t push vaccines but tries to ensure people have the information to make informed decisions. She said this includes “making sure anyone who wants to get vaccinated understands what emergency use authorization means; that they understand what the potential side effects are; that they understand what the benefits of vaccination are as well.”
Spears said some people show up for their appointments at vaccination sites and say they’re not really sure they want the shot. “We spend a lot of time with those individuals, go over the information sheet and allow them to go home and think about it. We are very committed to making sure people have the information to make that decision.”
So far, more than 211,000 people in Pinal County have said yes to the vaccine. Spears reported on the county website Friday that 70.9% of Pinal residents 65 and older; 53.5% of those 55-64 years of age; 40.4% of those 45-54; and 30% of those 35-44 have been vaccinated.
Vaccines may soon be available to teens, she told PinalCentral. Spears said there has been pilot testing of children for the last several months, and Pfizer was the first to begin this testing. “I would suggest we would be looking fairly soon to emergency use authorization for children age 12 and up.”
Spears also reported on her web post that on April 27, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people who are fully vaccinated no longer need to quarantine if they’ve been around someone who has COVID-19. They also don’t need to be tested unless they develop symptoms. Those who live in correctional institutions or group homes are still advised to get tested.
“Fully vaccinated” is achieved two weeks after a patient’s second shot or single dose of Johnson & Johnson, Spears said.
But overall interest in COVID vaccines remains in decline locally and statewide, Spears said. She said it’s difficult to say if this is due simply to most people who wanted the vaccine have received it, or worries related to the “pause” in giving the Johnson & Johnson, or Janssen, vaccine.
The CDC lifted the pause on April 23, along with a recommendation there be a warning about the rare blood clotting disorder that prompted the pause.