Ohio, Kanawha county health leaders reflect on pandemic one year after receiving vaccine shipments

WHEELING, W.Va. — Howard Gamble, the administrator for the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department believed his county, the state and country would be in a position of managing COVID-19 cases rather than continuing to respond to a pandemic and offering daily vaccination centers, one year after receiving vaccine doses.

Hubs across West Virginia received the first shipments of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine by mid to late December. For Ohio County, Gamble said the county received vaccinations on Dec. 16, 2020 to begin administering to front-line workers and then long-term care facilities.

He told MetroNews that 12 months into a pandemic that has a vaccine that is available, free and easy to access, he believed it would be more in control.

Howard Gamble

“I would have thought that within the summer, we would have been wrapping up our standing vaccine clinics for the community. And at this time I would have thought of how we would be incorporating this vaccine into a regular medicine schedule,” Gamble told MetroNews.

Gamble said the end of the pandemic will come down to vaccination rates, which have greatly slowed towards the end of 2021.

“We sit at just around 70 percent of eligible individuals have at least one dose in Ohio County. In this county, to be able to manage this as a disease, as ‘yes it’s occurring but we can manage it,’ we need to be in the high 80 percent mark,” Gamble said.

The latest figures from the state Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) confirmed 70.1% of Ohio County’s eligible population ages 5 and older have received a vaccine shot. That number rises 76% with 18 years and older, and a staggering 97.5% for those 65 of age and older.

The latest weekly report from the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department show 170 new cases confirmed from Dec. 12-Dec.19.

Gamble said while the vaccine cannot fully prevent someone from contracting COVID-19, it can prevent a person from becoming very sick. The DHHR’s COVID-19 dashboard shows 0.047% of fully vaccinated people have died from the virus in the state and 3.06% of fully vaccinated people have developed the virus.

He continued to urge individuals to get the shot, especially around the holidays with larger gatherings and the anticipated spread of the omicron variant.

“It’s not about the individual, it’s about the family, friends, coworkers and those individuals who can’t get it who cannot afford to get sick,” Gamble said.

Gamble noted early indications that omicron may have milder effects. But Gamble still urged caution. “It’s very early, and it can lead to more problems,” he said. There have been three confirmed cases of omicron in West Virginia.

In Kanawha County, Dr. Sherri Young, the interim executive director and health officer for Kanawha Charleston Health Department (KCHD) is also anticipating a surge of cases due to the holidays the spread of omicron.

Young’s county has seen 73.8% of the population 5 years of age and older receive a vaccine dose. Nearly 80% of the county 18 years of age and older have been vaccinated and 95% of the county ages 65 and older have been vaccinated with at least one dose, according to the DHHR dashboard.

Yet for Young, like Gamble, those numbers are not high enough to curb the pandemic. It’s certainly not high enough for Young to where she thought the numbers would be one year from the state receiving a vaccine.

Young said she remembers Dec. 15, 2020, the day the county received its first doses of Pfizer to allocate to front-line workers. That day the county got 20-30 shots into arms and when the Modera, Johnson & Johnson and more Pfizer doses came in, KCHD expanded its vaccination efforts to mass clinics at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention that garnered national media attention.

Dr. Sherri Young

“I pictured that maybe we wouldn’t be completely through it a year later. Either we could be dealing with it in some form or fashion with possibly booster vaccine and possibly breakthrough cases. But I never imagined we would be topping out hospitalizations and having so many complicated issues one year later,” Young told MetroNews.

The DHHR identified 580 COVID-19 patients in hospitals in its latest report two days before Christmas. While that figure is more than 400 less from the pandemic’s peak of more than 1,000 in late September, it’s far more than the pandemic lows of summer 2021 of less than 100.

Young noted the breakdown of the hospitalization numbers, those who are in the ICU and those who die from the virus between vaccinated and unvaccinated should be enough for people to want to get the shot.

“Yeah, we’re still in COVID-19 pandemic despite the vaccine but when we’re looking at the poor outcomes of being in the hospital, hospitals being overrun, having bad outcomes with long-term side effects including death, it’s clear the vaccine is working,” Young said.

Young said she believes higher vaccination rates, learning the impact of antibodies and antibody clinics, and the distribution of COVID-19 oral medications can go a long way to ending the pandemic state of COVID-19.

She praised the work her KCHD staff has done 12 months into receiving its first doses. KCHD held large-scale vaccine clinics for 17 straight Saturdays.

KCHD is holding a drive-thru clinic for vaccinations and testing this Wednesday at the health department from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

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