JACKSON, Mich. — Vaccinations are slowing down in Hillsdale County, even though most of the population remains unvaccinated.
Health officials from Hillsdale Hospital are saying they’re running into a problem where there are more shots than willing recipients.
“We still see a low vaccination rate in our county,” Hillsdale Hospital President and CEO Jeremiah Hodshire said. “When you lower it to 12 and older, obviously that’s a larger gap because you have more students in that age group. Unfortunately, those numbers start to decrease significantly. Right now Hillsdale would be trending at about 32 percent vaccination rate now that we’ve lowered the age. Prior to that, we were averaging around 40 to 41 percent.”
Over the weekend Hillsdale Hospital targeted 12 to 18-year-olds by opening a vaccination clinic at Hillsdale High School. They wanted to get children vaccinated now before classes wrapped up for summer break. In all, 65 people signed up to receive the COVID vaccine, numbers that are in line with what Hillsdale Hospital Pharmacy Director Jeff Kauffman has seen at their pop-up clinics recently.
“Our first clinics would have anywhere from 500 to 1,000 people at a time. Now, if you’re having a larger clinic you may have 50 to 100 people. They’re much smaller in size,” Kauffman said.
Both Kauffman and Hodshire say the community support is there for these vaccinations but there is still a big percentage of the population that has been hesitant to participate.
“I think the concerns are obviously as individuals are looking for answers there’s a lot of uncertainty in terms of the interim measure, is it finally approved?" Hodshire said. "Just a lot of questions. So we combat that through education. Awareness. Talk about the science of it. A lot of politics out right now regarding this, a lot of division. But, what we know is we’re making the best choice for those that we love.”
The “politicization” of COVID-19 and the vaccines has frustrated the medical community, according to Kauffman. There is a bright spot though: 62 percent of those 50 and older are vaccinated in Hillsdale County.
“You’ve got a large amount of the 50 and up folks that have been vaccinated,” Kauffman said. “You have a lot of college-age students that are kind of on the fence. They were listening to the media saying younger folks aren’t really affected. They can be. Usually, it’s milder cases. But, we’ve seen kids in their 20s that have been affected severely.”
Hodshire says they understand they will not be able to get 100 percent of Hillsdale’s population vaccinated but they need to focus on the younger population now.
“That is very important to get back to 'normal' whatever that is now. Getting the students back in the classroom, getting the students to be able to participate in sports, extracurricular activities is so critical to the well-being, mental health, physical health of our students and of our community,” Hodshire said.
Tara Glei-Dietz is a special education teacher at Hillsdale Intermediate School District and is a mother of four. She has seen firsthand the challenges COVID has presented both in the classroom and in her home. Two of her kids contracted the virus and have since recovered. They are now all vaccinated.
“I trust science. I trust my doctors for medical advice. I trust my vet for health advice for my animals. I believe science is giving us the best information that they have and this is the best bet to move on,” Glei-Dietz said. “I want COVID to go away. I want people to be able to hug and to gather and to walk around school without masks and social distancing. I teach special education and it’s hard. It's hard on these kids. I just want to be able to move on.”
Kauffman believes there are several reasons the community and some of his own staff have been hesitant in getting the vaccine including the speed with which they were made and distributed, “misinformation” shaping people’s views, as well as the tiered system of how the vaccines were rolled out in Michigan.
“I would like to hopefully see more education of folks that they’re comfortable would want to do the right thing for themselves, get protected as well as the people around them because not only does the vaccine take care of the protection of that individual it is protecting the people around them. Right now what the data is looking at, there is very little chance they can spread the virus,” Kauffman said.
According to data from the state, 57.1 percent of Michigan's population 16 and up has received at least one dose.
“The next conversation that we have as a medical community and really as a society is what do we do with these vaccinations?” Hodshire said. “We can’t let them go to waste. They must be used. So, I think we have to have the dialogue and the conversation about who within the United States and even globally need the vaccinations if there is hesitancy and nobody is getting these vaccines.”
Jackson County has vaccinated 43.1 percent of its residents. Ingham County has vaccinated 45.3 percent of its residents as well. Overall, Michigan has seen a decline in COVID cases after a peak in March through April. As more people get vaccinated, health experts believe, these numbers will continue to go down.
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