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Lycoming County lags behind state in vaccinations

UPMC’s Ryan Mullins, left, gives a COVID-19 vaccine to Lloydanna Fluman, 102, right, along with her fellow residents at Nippenose Valley Village, as they say “Peace out COVID.” .

Although 70 percent of Pennsylvania’s adult population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, Lycoming County is still lagging behind the rest of the state.

The state is around 43% fully vaccinated, while Lycoming County rests at around 34.6% fully vaccinated, according to Barbara Hemmendinger, a member of both Lycoming County Health Improvement Coalition and Williamsport’s “Let’s End COVID.”

“In essence, with this new level of immunity, Pennsylvania is no longer looking at the possibility of major conflagrations from COVID-19 cases,” Hemmendinger said. “However, areas like ours that have not reached 60% fully vaccinated or 70% partially so, are still at significant risk for deadly regional and local outbreaks”

“That’s a concern because while the state might do very well at curtailing the spread of the virus, if rural counties fall behind, we are still likely to have a ‘brush fire’ instead of a ‘forest fire,'” Hemmendinger said. “Those could be significant and deadly brush fires. People continue to die from COVID-19!”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pennsylvania has a state average of 9.5 infections of COVID-19 per 100,000 people, while Lycoming County has around 12.9 infections per 100,000 people–meaning the virus is spreading faster in the county compared to the state.

“We need to be cautious and not lose the gains we’ve made,” Hemmendinger said. “If we throw caution to the wind, we can end up with more people getting sick and unfortunately getting hospitalized. This will jeopardize the resumption of normalcy we’ve begun to see.”

To curb that spread, Hemmendinger said county residents need to practice public health behaviors, including wearing masks when indoors and not vaccinated. She also encouraged residents to take advantage of the vaccination opportunities in the county, as they are free and readily available.

“It is wise to take into account what the transmission rate is locally and what percentage of the population is vaccinated. Just because the whole state is not on fire does not mean we can’t have a brush fire in our backyard,” Hemmendinger said.

Despite the setbacks, Hemmendinger celebrated the county’s accomplishments in knocking down the backyard brushfire that is the COVID infection rate.

More than 75 percent of people older than 65 years old are vaccinated, according to Hemmendinger. Additionally,

By and large, around 50% of the United States’ population has received one dose of the vaccine while around 41% is fully vaccinated. While Pennsylvania leads the national average at 43% of its total population being vaccinated, Lycoming County is well-below that average.

Around 35 percent of Lycoming County’s population is fully vaccinated, which is six percentage points ahead of Clinton County’s rate. Yet, Lycoming County is beat out by Union County’s 38.6 percent. All of them fall under Pennsylvania’s average of 43 percent fully vaccinated.

In an email newsletter sent to the community, Hemmendinger explained the concept of exponential growth versus exponential decay. One person bringing COVID-19 into a community could find the rate of infection squaring, meaning on the second day, two people could be infected. On day three, four could be while on day four, 16 could be.

“However, if there are 16 cases of COVID in a particular town, if it decays exponentially by the next day, you would see half of those being gone, and the next time another half would be gone,” Hemmendinger said. “That’s the way an epidemic dies.”

One around 60 or 70 percent of the population is vaccinated, it achieves herd immunity and the COVID-19 virus loses hosts to spread to.

However, Hemmendinger said that herd immunity is unlikely to be achieved.

“Sometimes the vaccines fail, or someone is immunocompromised and the vaccine doesn’t work as well. Or, the vaccine was not stored properly and is not effective,” Hemmendinger.

Hemmendinger also highlighted the possibility of a variant strain that could gain a foothold and exponentially increase if the current vaccines are no longer effective at combating it.

Several opportunities for walk-in vaccination at mobile clinics are approaching in the county.

On June 2 and 5, at Bowman Field from 5 to 7:30 p.m., UPMC Williamsport will administer the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines from a bus parked at the stadium. Attending fans who receive a vaccine at the game will receive a free hot dog and drink while watching the Crosscutters’ games.

Meanwhile, at 10 a.m. on June 7, Rite Aid will administer the Pfizer vaccine for children 12 years old or older at the Rommelt Elementary School, and will deliver a second dose June 28. Appointments are required, and minors require a parent to be present and to consent to receiving the vaccine.

Finally, River Valley Health and Dental will offer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the Juneteenth celebration at Brandon Park on June 19 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and will distribute $5 Sheetz gift cards to the first 50 people who are vaccinated there.

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