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Apr. 9—One month ago, Eric Larson could not get shipments of COVID-19 vaccines to Davison County fast enough. Now he is pumping the brakes.
Vaccinations have become available for every South Dakota resident over the age of 16, but the Avera Queen of Peace director of pharmacy says people have been slow to register for open slots. South Dakota has been among the leaders in vaccine distribution nationwide, but the new reticence to receive a vaccine is part of an increasing national concern that not enough people will be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.
From April 2-9, Avera is scheduled to administer 900 first doses in Davison County — compared to roughly 350-540 doses previously — but clinics are not filling up as quickly. Larson said more than 100 spots are open next week, and according to Avera's online sign-up portal, there are nearly 30 spots open for April 16, compared to a dozen on April 9.
"We're not the only ones seeing this at this time and everybody is at the same point," Larson said. "We've opened it up to everybody to a younger population and the vaccination uptake isn't quite what we'd like it to be right now. ... I have been getting reports of folks making calls that now they're getting, 'I'm just not sure. I don't know.'"
Avera aims to vaccinate 90 people per hour from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. for first and second-dose clinics or in three-hour increments for first-dose clinics through four vaccination stations at the clinic on the Highway 37 Bypass in Mitchell. This allows to limit people waiting in line, as well as those waiting the 15-20 minutes after vaccination to ensure no side-effects occur.
Vaccinations are now available for all South Dakotans 16-and-older! I got my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine today. pic.twitter.com/wH9IBKn9Yj
— Governor Kristi Noem (@govkristinoem) April 5, 2021
For the last month, Avera has received the Pfizer vaccine — which has been deemed 91% effective — in Davison County from Avera McKennan, which can be stored in a freezer for up to 14 days and another five in a refrigerator. With fewer people in line to be vaccinated, concern over expired doses increases and Larson has already had to ask for fewer shipments.
"McKennan is going to send more vaccine and I asked them, 'Is it too late to ask not to send more vaccine, because I'm not going to need all that,'" Larson said. "We're going to let the dust settle, see how these clinics fill up and then just ask for less vaccine each week. It wasn't more than two or three weeks ago we were begging for more vaccine."
Why younger people are declining vaccines
Thus far, South Dakota has administered at least one dose to more than 48% of the state's population and one-third of the state has been completely inoculated. In Davison County, 7,557 people have received at least one dose and 4,462 have received both doses.
But more than 65% of those vaccinated so far are over the age of 50, compared to 10.7% of people ages 18-29, per the Department of Health. Meanwhile a poll conducted by NPR found that 1 in 4 Americans would refuse a COVID vaccine and another 5% are uncertain, with numbers increasing for residents in rural areas.
The nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has estimated between 75-85% of the population must be vaccinated to reach herd immunity. Another poll conducted by Kaiser Health News found that 25% of people ages 18-29 are uncertain about receiving the vaccine, which is common according to Rockwell.
"I think they take more risks and feel a little more invincible in everything in life," said Dr. Hilary Rockwell, Avera Queen of Peace emergency physician. "You definitely have that age where you don't think anything can get you or hurt you. I think it's a very normal reaction, especially with COVID because it affected older people. They are the population that has the greatest risk, so it's really easy to look at this as, 'It's not going to affect me.'"
Despite a tendency in some younger people to think otherwise, Rockwell still notes that COVID-19 is a significant threat. A recent study of 230,000 Americans has shown that one in three COVID-19 survivors were diagnosed with a brain of psychiatric disorder within six months, while one in 10 people with a mild case of COVID-19 have long-term effects eight months afterward.
Meanwhile, stronger variants of COVID-19 are sweeping the country, with the U.K. variant now becoming the most common strain in the United States. Variants are an ongoing concern as active COVID-19 cases increased after briefly dipping below 2,000 in March. Since March 25, active cases statewide have hovered between 2,400-2,500, while hospitalizations have been stuck between 90-100.
Although it is still possible to contract COVID-19 after vaccination, the vaccine allows the body to recall how to fight the disease, limiting severity.
"We're seeing the U.K. variant, that's the predominant form of COVID we have now in our area," Rockwell said. "Some of the other variants you get a bit of an immune escape, so you need to have a stronger immune response or a higher antibody concentration to be effective and that's from the vaccine. So, even if you've had the infection, you need to get vaccinated. That's going to build those long-term memory cells, more antibodies and that's going to be protective down the line."