Lake Houston - Humble - Kingwood Edition | September 2021

The road to HERD IMMUNITY COVID-19 vaccine eligibility in Texas Harris County Montgomery County

While vaccinations in Harris and Montgomery counties picked up following the expansion of vaccine eligibility to the general public in the spring, they have since slowed in the summer months. As a result, less than half of each county’s total population had been fully vaccinated as of Sept. 20.

60%

50.61%

March 15: Phase 1C (people ages 50-64)

May 12: Everyone age 12 and older

March 3: School and licensed child care personnel

Aug. 18: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services announces booster shots will be available to the general public by September.

50%

March 27: Everyone age 16 and older

40%

43.61%

30%

20%

10%

3.37%

0%

0.95%

Feb. 1

March 1

April 5

May 3

June 7

July 5

Aug. 2

Sept. 6

WEEK START DATE

NOTE: AS HARRIS AND MONTGOMERY COUNTIES REPORT DATA DIFFERENTLY, DATA PULLED MAY NOT NECESSARILY BE FROM THE SAME DATE BUT IS WITHIN THE SAME WEEK. SOURCES: HARRIS COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH, HOUSTON HEALTH DEPARTMENT, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF STATE HEALTH SERVICESCOMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER

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As vaccinations lag, experts say herd immunitymay be unattainable BY HANNAH ZEDAKER

and east parts of the county,” Kiger said. “But in general, we’re not at the point where we need to be across most [Harris County] ZIP codes.” While Harris County Public Health rolled out a variety of initiatives this summer to incentivize vaccines, Kiger said reaching herd immunity—when a sucient proportion of a population is immune to an infectious disease—is becoming increasingly unattainable. “[Herd immunity is] getting harder and harder to achieve at this point because of the variants and low vacci- nation rates,” Kiger said. “What we’re trying to achieve now is … a lower hospitalization rate, low morbidity/ mortality rates and … getting out of our current threat level and ... less

accessible to its more than 4.7 million residents by establishing mass vacci- nation sites, mobile vaccination sites through community partnerships and a COVID-19 vaccine hotline. “As we’ve seen more providers come online, we were able to kind of shift our focus to ... ‘vaccine deserts’ where we didn’t have a lot of accessi- bility to vaccines,” Kiger said. Similarly, the Montgomery County Public Health Department and the Montgomery County Hospital District have administered more than 150,000 vaccine doses during drive-thru events countywide, according toMCHDPublic Information Ocer Misti Willingham. In addition to hosting public vacci- nation events, the entities have trav- eled to nursing homes, community centers, at-risk communities and indi- vidual homes to administer vaccines. “Now that vaccines are widely available, we continue our push to answer residents’ questions and provide medical direction, but ulti- mately, one’s health care is a personal decision,” Willingham said. However, as the delta variant began spreading throughout the Greater Houston area over the summer, the demand for vaccinations simultane- ously dropped across both counties. As a result, Harris County raised its coronavirus threat level back to red Aug. 5, signifying a severe and uncontrolled level of the virus in the

community. At the time, Harris County had over 20,000 actives cases of COVID-19 and a testing positivity rate of over 15%. Similarly, Montgomery County commissioners approved a 30-day disaster declaration Aug. 10 following the county’s Aug. 9 COVID-19 update, in which ocials reported 170 out of 174 intensive care unit beds were in use and COVID-19 patients made up 16.2% of area hospital capacity. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued formal approval of Pzer’s vaccine Aug. 23, Kiger said the change in demand for vaccines has been minuscule. Incentivizing vaccines In hopes of driving up vaccination rates, HCPH launched a pair of incen- tive programs this summer. In May, county ocials launched a 10-week scholarship program, during which a $5,000 scholarship was awarded each week to a student who received a vaccine from a HCPH site. Kiger said HCPH has vaccinated more than 25,000 residents under age 18, which she said can be partially attributed to the scholarship program. In the same spirit, HCPH launched a second incentive program Aug. 17, in which anyone who received a vaccine at a HCPH site through Aug. 31 would receive $100. Citing a 706% increase in daily vaccinations, county ocials

New Caney resident Laura Barnum said in her 64 years of life, she has only been vaccinated for the u one time—and she became sick two weeks later. Since then, Barnum said she had not elected to get another optional vaccine—until this year. “I do believe [COVID-19] is dier- ent,” Barnum said. “This year, for the rst time in 20 years, I got the Pzer vaccine in March and April.” Barnum is one of more than 159,200 Lake Houston-area residents who had been fully vaccinated as of Sept. 20, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services—just under half of the seven- ZIP code area’s total population. Jennifer Kiger, who was recently named director of Harris County’s new COVID-19 response division, said the Lake Houston area is among the areas with the lowest vaccination rates countywide. The new 69-position division was created by Harris County commis- sioners Aug. 24 and will be taking over COVID-19 testing, vaccination and outreach countywide for the next two years. The $17 million division is being funded through the Public Improvement Contingency Fund and federal COVID-19 relief grants. “When we look at vaccination rates across the county, … we do see lower vaccination rates in the north, central

community spread.” Summer slowdown

Since Texas expanded COVID-19 vaccine eligibility in mid-May to include everyone age 12 and older, HCPH has been making vaccines more

HERD IMMUNITY IS GETTINGHARDERAND HARDER TOACHIEVE AT THIS POINT... JENNIFER KIGER, HARRIS COUNTY COVID19 RESPONSE DIVISION DIRECTOR

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COMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER • COMMUNITYIMPACT.COM

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