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Vaccination rates continue to slow down

STEUBENVILLE — The number of vaccine doses going into the arms of Jefferson County residents continues to slow.

That fact, and how to address it, were among the topics discussed at Tuesday morning’s meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Health.

During his report, county Health Commissioner Andrew Henry informed the board that the mass vaccination clinics the health department had been holding in the Fort Steuben Mall came to an end due to slowing demand, and a lot of the vaccination efforts have been moved back into the health department’s office in the Jefferson County Tower with a focus on outreach.

Henry said there will be clinics held at various locations going forward, including the library, though he added, “for the sake of honesty, we do not expect a huge turnout.”

He said the department is working with the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce to promote vaccination clinics at local businesses, and part of a consent agenda approved at Henry’s request included a memorandum of understanding with the Laurels to assist with vaccinating staff and residents.

He noted in addition to businesses, municipalities can contact the department to schedule a vaccine clinic.

“With the decrease in vaccine interest, there will be a local campaign to promote vaccination,” he said.

“Our intent is not to be pushy, but rather promote the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.”

Last week, the Pfizer vaccine was approved for use in 12-15-year-olds. Henry said the health department does not currently have the Pfizer vaccine, but there are several other entities in the county that do.

During her report, Nursing Director Hannah Piko noted that 35 percent of the county’s population has started the vaccination process and about 31 percent is fully vaccinated.

For comparison, Henry stated at the April 20 meeting the vaccination rate was around 32 percent, indicating it only increased by around three percent in the last month.

Dr. Mark Kissinger, the county medical director, clarified later in the meeting the state’s county-by-county breakdown is divided by the total population of the county, not the eligible population, which would mean the percentage of the eligible population vaccinated is somewhere in the 40s.

Still, though, the latest numbers from the state have the overall rate in Ohio at 42.7 percent having started the vaccination process, according to numbers from the state provided by Piko, while 37.5 percent of Ohioans have completed the process.

That puts Jefferson County nearly eight percent below the state average, though Henry noted the vaccination rates are similar in surrounding counties.

“We’re all seeing the same things,” he said.

Board President Dr. Patrick Macedonia said he will “be interested to see if the governor’s lottery system changes” the local vaccination rate, referencing Gov. Mike DeWine’s initiative entering vaccinated adults into a drawing for $1 million.

Concerns about the county lagging behind were among the concerns raised in public participation by Royal Mayo, Democratic nominee for the Steubenville City Council 4th Ward seat.

“We’re behind,” he said. “We’re 15th worst out of the 88 counties (in cases per 100,000) … with those numbers we’re never going to get to herd immunity. We still have almost two thirds of the people in the county who are not vaccinated.”

He encouraged the board to work with other organizations to educate people about the vaccine and suggested using locally known people in advertising campaigns.

Kissinger, during his report, said the case count in the county, even with the slowing vaccination rate, is down 48 percent from last month, stating “there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

He said, as of May 12, the county was at 142 cases per 100,000 people, a metric used by the state, and said that number has decreased in the past week. In April, the county was at 252 cases per 100,000.

Though the number is coming down, it was noted the county still ranks 15th of the 88 counties in the state.

He warned, however, as things go back to normal, an increase in cancer cases and other diseases will likely be seen because people had been forced to put off routine screenings during the past year or longer because of the pandemic.

He said that as the health department returns to more normal operations coming out of the pandemic, a focus on preventative care and promoting better health practices in the county needs to be a point of emphasis.

Kissinger, Henry and Piko each noted some normal operations are beginning to resume, like the Minority Health Month health fair held earlier this month at Historic Fort Steuben and upcoming events, such as a firearm safety training session to distribute lock boxes for safe storage and the return of the bike helmet program and bike rodeo later this year.

In other action:

– The board continued to discuss the Wellness on Wheels grant program to purchase a mobile clinic. Even with the grant funding for the project, the health department is still short of the funds needed to fund the purchase of the van, though they do not want to pass on the opportunities to utilize the grant funds.

Henry recently went before the county commissioners to seek additional funding from the county for the project, a request he said the commissioners are still considering.

The possibility of partnering with another entity, such as Trinity Health System, was discussed, though it was noted the grant application would have to be changed and re-approved by the granting source.

Macedonia said he wanted plans finalized for consideration for approval by the board’s June meeting.

– Environmental Director Marc Maragos told the board there were three odor complaints related to APEX Landfill in April, and he had met with officials from the facility who said they are planning to increase their workforce from 105 to 125 employees.

He said the department is doing summer program inspections and is prepared to be involved in the Amsterdam sewer project with the Jefferson County Water and Sewer District.

– Revisiting a concern raised by Macedonia in April about the lack of licensing for items like concession stands at places like youth league baseball games, Henry said the topic had been researched by the department and the Ohio Revised Code, in section 3717.22 provides an exemption for nonprofit entities who use the sale of food to raise money if they do not operate for more than seven consecutive days and no more than 52 days in a licensing period.

– Macedonia proposed a committee be formed to review the health department’s finances, consisting of himself and board member Anthony Mougianis. The motion was made by board member Clark Crago and approved.

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