The head of the UND medical school and two employees at Grand Forks Public Health say the vaccination rollout in Grand Forks County is going well. Like the nationwide rollout, the local program is ahead of schedule.
But concerns exist about what will happen when those who are eager to get the shot have been vaccinated, leaving unvaccinated those who are hesitant or outright unwilling. It’s a serious concern, since ABC News on Thursday reported that national hospitalization rates among the unvaccinated are rising at an alarming rate.
UND Vice President for Health Affairs Dr. Joshua Wynne, who also is the state’s chief health strategist, told the Herald this week that in North Dakota, more than a third of the population has received at least one shot. Approximately 20% are fully vaccinated.
And this from Debbie Swanson, director of Grand Forks Public Health: “Community vaccination clinics are going well, and we are reaching a large number of people through this efficient process. We are limited only by the supply of vaccine that we receive each week, which is allocated by the North Dakota Department of Health.”
But eventually, the number of people who want to get vaccinated will dwindle, leaving those who are uncertain about vaccines or those who simply choose not to receive a shot. It’s called “vaccine hesitancy” and it’s drawing concerns from health professionals nationwide, including Wynne.
He is concerned for two reasons: “The vaccine hesitancy we are discussing, and the emergence of the variant strains that may be more contagious, more virulent and, most worrisome, more resistant to vaccines and immunity related to prior infection.”
“So,” he continues, “that brings me to the most important point: It is critical for North Dakotans to not let their guard down just yet, and to get vaccinated.”
He said the risk of vaccination is “miniscule compared with the potential benefit” and also that “when one gets vaccinated, you are not only protecting yourself but you are also helping to protect your family, friends and community.”
Wynne says the longer the pandemic continues, the more opportunity the virus has to mutate. And by getting vaccinated “you decrease the chance of the virus to survive and thrive in your community.”
Swanson said “our goal of preventing this disease can best be achieved through vaccination.” She said anyone who is undecided should speak to a trusted health care provider about the vaccines.
And Haley Bruhn, immunization program manager at Grand Forks Public Health, said she sees the population falling into three categories.
● “Those who will accept a vaccine because of an overall trust and faith in leading medicine and health experts;
● “those who will eventually accept a vaccine once the benefit clearly outweighs any perceived risk and they've had a chance to consult with someone they have a trusted relationship with;
● “and those who, regardless of any education or conversation, will not accept a vaccine.”
At present, she said, vaccine providers are still seeing those in the first category.
“Once we are through the initial uptake in the general public, we will have more work ahead of us in reaching that second category of people,” she said. “This may cause a palpable lull because it will take time for education, conversations with trusted health professionals, and more general acceptance. Our work is far from over.”
Wynne, Swanson and Bruhn are far from alone. So many others are urging vaccinations, too.
Last month, a group of local doctors (Dr. Patrick Moore, Dr. Chris Henderson, Altru Health System President Dr. Steven Weiser, County Health Officer Dr. Joel Walz, Altru Medical Director Dr. Josh Deere and former mayor Dr. Michael Brown) sent a letter to the Herald, urging residents to get vaccinated.
Our advice? Believe these good people. Trust in the science behind the vaccine. Get the shot when your turn comes.