Early vaccination push may have led to current COVID case spike, Warren County says

Coronavirus

An essential worker receives a COVID-19 vaccine courtesy of Warren County, in January 2021. County spokesman Don Lehman said that a push to vaccinate as many people as possible early on may have contributed to the county’s current high infection rate, as vaccine effectiveness wanes. (Photo: Warren County)

WARREN COUNTY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – On Monday, Warren County confirmed 26 COVID-19 cases. After weeks of new case totals ranging from the 30s all the way up to the 90s, that number feels like a victory for the county.

That said, there’s a long way to go. Last Thursday, Warren County set a new record for the most concurrent active coronavirus cases in the county – 625 and counting. In November, new records were set several times, filling Glens Falls Hospital’s beds to capacity and making late 2021 the busiest season for the virus that places like Glens Falls and Queensbury have ever seen.

“They’re seeing a lot of cases where, let’s say the delta variant gets into a home, it’s very hard to keep everyone in that home from getting the delta variant,” said Don Lehman, spokesman for Warren County, on Monday. “We’re seeing a large number of cases where it’s going through the households.”

Many of those households have at least one person in them who hasn’t been vaccinated, statistically speaking. Lehman estimated that between 60% and 70% of all current coronavirus cases in Warren County are among unvaccinated residents. That high percentage is a concentration in a relatively small group, too; as of this week, Warren County just passed the marker of 70% of all residents fully vaccinated.

That leaves the obvious message – that those who haven’t been vaccinated against coronavirus are more likely to catch it – but it also raises a certain “why now” question. In 2020, cases spiked starting after Thanksgiving, but Lehman said the county hasn’t seen any kind of similar uptick this year.

That aside, there are many possible factors influencing the uptick, but one actually comes down to how early Warren County adopted the COVID-19 vaccine when it was first coming around.

“Back in January and February, we really did a lot of vaccinating people back then,” Lehman said. “Warren County Health Services had a couple big 1,200-person clinics early on, in February and March, and so we had a lot of people get the vaccine early. There was a point in February when we had the third-highest per capita vaccine rate in New York State.”

Now, both Warren County and the nearby state-run vaccine site in Queensbury offer booster shots to anyone who wants one. Those boosters are an answer to U.S. Center for Disease Control guidance that the effectiveness of initial vaccine doses may drop over time. The CDC recommends a booster shot for anyone ages 18 and up who received their last vaccine at least six months ago.

That means that Warren County’s industrious early start may have led to more residents of the county and surrounding North Country region becoming more susceptible to infection before some other parts of New York. That would account for Warren County’s high numbers, and could even contribute to neighboring Washington County having recently ranked as having the highest COVID test positivity rate in the state. The two counties ran a joint vaccine effort in those early months.

“We basically split what we had in half; 600 for one county, 600 for the other,” Lehman said. “Those people all got it early.”

As the numbers rise again, vaccination efforts are unceasing; especially now that the booster shot is widely available. In addition to the state-run vaccine site, which ran from April to July before starting up again last week, Warren County Health Services has held weekly clinics on Tuesday evenings at the county municipal center. Those saw an average of around 15-20 people per week during the summer, after the initial surge of people getting vaccinated in the spring.

Now, things are busier. As of Monday, the county clinic set for Dec. 7 has 200 slots between vaccines and boosters – and every one of them is full.

As far as effectiveness goes, Lehman pointed to an unidentified senior living center as a recent example of the vaccine and booster shot protecting even those who do get infected. The center Lehman referenced saw around 20 COVID-19 infections, but none of them had to be hospitalized; not for that, at least.

“One actually did fall and get hurt, but that was different.”

Meanwhile, busy times for the virus extend to the rest of the state in turn. On Monday morning, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the COVID-19 vaccine mandate would extend to private industry, requiring all employers to enforce the mandate on employees. Lehman isn’t sure that step is exactly what’s needed in the North Country, but county leaders are certainly taking note.

“The mayor can do things that can’t quite be done on a board of supervisors level, but the leadership here is certainly aware that this is transpiring, and reviewing it,” Lehman said. “There’s really no talk of anything like that here in Warren County.”

The state-run site at the Aviation Mall has seen brisk business since opening last Wednesday. It saw 700 visitors in its first 24 hours of operation, including both appointments and walk-ins.

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