York County vaccination rate on the decline as hesitancy remains

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
UPMC, the Spanish American Multi-Cultural Resource Center and the York Revolution hosted a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at PeoplesBank Park Wednesday, April 14, 2021. UPMC will host another clinic at the hospital on Sunday, April 18, from noon to 7 p.m., and on Wednesday, April 21, from 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. To register for the clinics, go to vaccine.upmc.com or call 844-876-2822. Bill Kalina photo

The number of York County residents getting COVID-19 vaccinations has plummeted over the past month, which health officials say is an indication that vaccine hesitancy remains an issue.

After a late March peak in York County, when in a seven-day period more than 3,500 first doses were administered per 100,000 people, the number has since dropped to just over 1,000 per 100,000 as of Wednesday, according to state Health Department data.

That is about a 71% decrease.

“It’s statewide phenomenon,” said Dr. Matt Howie, medical director of the York City Health Bureau. “We’re seeing this decrease in demand for the first dose, and we’re also seeing an increase in no-show rates even when individuals are scheduled.”

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Howie said he anticipated the vaccination rate would drop off as more people get vaccinated and the pool becomes smaller. However, he said, he did not expect it to drop off so quickly.

That sudden drop comes as a significant portion of the population remains untreated.

Susan Klingaman, a nurse with Penn State Health Medical Group, prepares a Moderna vaccine at the York County Food Bank on Monday, May 3, 2021. Tina Locurto photo.

Only about 32% of York residents are fully vaccinated, according to an analysis by The New York Times. Statewide, about 37% of residents are fully vaccinated.

Going forward, Howie said, health providers need to improve their messaging and shorten the wait time for those who express interest in the vaccine.

Health systems have already been forced to adjust how they administer vaccines because of the lack of demand.

WellSpan, for example, earlier this month announced it would begin accepting walk-ins for COVID-19 vaccinations. It also stopped accepting appointments for first doses on Sundays at its mass vaccination clinic in Manchester Township.

But another issue is that minorities in particular are being left behind.

Those numbers could change, however, as 13.2% of patients did not report their race and 26.5% did not report their ethnicity statewide.

"The slowdown in the commonwealth follows a robust demand for the vaccine just a few weeks ago, when Pennsylvania was averaging vaccinating more than 100,000 people per day," said state Health Department spokesperson Mark O'Neill.

That state's seven-day average is now 67,000, O'Neill added.

The department is in the process of trying to reverse the slipping vaccination rate through a variety of initiatives, several of which target minority communities, he said.

It is putting millions of dollars into a statewide marketing campaign with a focus on underserved communities and providing aid to mobile vaccination clinics to branch out beyond brick-and-mortar locations, he said.

The department is also expanding the list of who can provide vaccines to include colleges and pharmacies of all sizes.

Gov. Tom Wolf has continued to lift COVID-19 mitigation measures even as vaccination rates are lagging.

 Earlier this month, Wolf announced that all restrictions would be lifted beginning May 31— with the exception of the mask-wearing requirement.

Before residents can fully unmask, 70% of the state's adult population must be fully vaccinated, he said.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.