Flathead County could soon begin scaling back its vaccination clinics as the demand for shots lags, despite the number of fully immunized residents still well short of what is needed for broad community protection.
As of April 19, more than 47,000 doses of vaccine had been deployed in Flathead County, with 19,671 people fully immunized. Since most of the inoculations in the county have required two doses, that puts the county’s vaccine uptake at around 25%, miles away from the threshold epidemiologists believe is needed for herd immunity. That’s the point at which enough people in a community have durable immunity that the virus cannot spread in any meaningful way. Experts disagree on exactly what percentage is necessary, but even conservative estimates say it would be at least 60%.
A grim silver lining in Flathead County is the number of people who have been infected with COVID-19. More than 12,000 county residents have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began and officials estimate there could be at least another 12,000 residents that were infected but asymptomatic. If another 24,000 people still had some level of immunity due to infection, the number of immune residents would be closer to 50%. It is unclear how long a person infected with COVID-19 retains immunity from the virus.
In an interview last week, Flathead County Health Officer Joe Russell cautioned residents that the virus was still very present here. Seven people were hospitalized on April 15, the most on a single day since Feb. 23, and the seven-day rolling average of new cases has crept higher in recent days.
Vaccine appointments can still be made through the Flathead City-County Health Department or one of several local pharmacies via vaccinefinder.org. The county is currently holding vaccine clinics at the county fairgrounds on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, although that will be reduced to Tuesdays and Wednesdays in the coming weeks, Russell said.
“Three weeks from now we could basically be out of business if we wanted to be,” Russell said. “We’re just not ready to give up on this community yet. We think that there’s more people that want to get vaccinated.”
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