Some areas of Cattaraugus County are doing better than others when it comes to COVID-19 vaccinations.
Dr. Kevin D. Watkins, public health director, told members of the Board of Health Wednesday that the once long lines for a COVID-19 vaccine shot are “starting to dry up” over vaccine hesitancy.
There are several reasons for the hesitancy, Watkins said. Some feel the vaccine was developed too quickly, some don’t trust the medical system, an historically-rooted mistrust, and youth who feel they are invincible and won’t suffer severe ill-effects.
As of Tuesday, 21,890 residents had completed their vaccine series and 26,379, or 34.3% of the county’s population, had received at least one dose of vaccine, Watkins said.
The vaccines are effective and reduce the incidence of severe ill-effects, hospitalization and deaths, Watkins said.
The good news is that about 65% of residents 65 and older are vaccinated, Watkins said. Older residents made up a large percentage of the county’s 100 COVID-19 deaths.
Displaying a map of the county which showed the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations by zip code, Watkins said the town and village of Ellicottville appear to have the highest rate of vaccination, between 70% and 80%. Great Valley is doing very well, as is Hinsdale, he added.
The map also showed the town of Conewango in the western part of the county to be among the lowest rates of vaccination. That town has a large Amish population, as does the nearby town of Dayton. Old Order Amish generally do not accept vaccines.
The Franklinville zip code also has a low vaccination rate, Watkins said.
“We’re hoping we can turn these numbers around and encourage more people to get vaccinated,” Watkins said.
Another factor in the vaccine hesitancy is linked to the FDA’s “pause” on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after a very small number of individuals — mostly women — developed rare blood clots. The one-shot vaccine has been cleared for use with a warning to doctors not to use a common drug for breaking up the clots in the brain, abdomen and legs should a complication occur.
Watkins also updated the board on “breakthrough” cases where residents have tested positive after receiving one or both shots of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine or the one-shot J&J vaccine. Thirty tested positive after being fully vaccinated and 27 tested positive after just one dose. There were two deaths.
Watkins said the breakthroughs are very rare. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are about 95% effective and the J&J about 72%. In most cases, it prevents serious illness, hospitalization and death.
Most of Cattaraugus County’s 5,443 confirmed COVID-19 cases — 2,935 — are from the southeast part of the county.
The county has performed more than 142,000 COVID-19 tests, but is finding fewer people want to be tested. Because of this, Watkins said the county will perform COVID-19 tests only on Fridays.
Also, with fewer people seeking vaccine appointments, only one person is staffing the county’s Vaccine Call Center at (716) 701-3777.
The county’s 3.8% positivity rate is nearly twice that of New York State. Most of Western New York’s countries are high compared to the state average.
Watkins said the 20-29 age group is the most common to be diagnosed with COVID-19, followed closely by those under age 19.
“The number of positive cases in schools is quite concerning to us at this time,” he explained.
The health department has met with school officials to begin to vaccinate students age 16 and older, Watkins said. The department will hold clinics in Gowanda on May 11, Portville May 12, Cattaraugus-Little Valley May 13, Randolph May 14, Allegany-Limestone May 17 and Olean May 18.
Vaccination dates for Pioneer, West Valley, Franklinville, Salamanca and Hinsdale have not been scheduled yet.
As the Pfizer vaccine moves closer to emergency use for 12-15 year-olds, more vaccination clinics for students will be scheduled.