To stop the spread of COVID-19, Lancaster County physicians hope to get at least 60% of the general population vaccinated this year.
To achieve this, local physicians are encouraging and educating the county about the benefits of getting vaccinated when it is made available to them, they said in a Lancaster NAACP branch town hall.
Tuesday’s webinar, moderated by media organization The Cultured Professional and hosted by the Lancaster NAACP, included the personal insights of two Lancaster General Health doctors, obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Cherise Hamblin and family and community medicine chair Dr. Jeffrey Martin. Throughout the last year, the Lancaster NAACP branch has hosted multiple virtual town halls to keep people informed about the coronavirus and resources to combat it.
The two doctors briefed the Black advocacy group to encourage them to get vaccinated, as a county study found less than half of the Lancaster residents may be willing to get the vaccine.
The coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately impacted communities of color, specifically Black communities. Black people make up 21% of deaths from COVID-19 nationwide, despite making up only 13% of the U.S. population, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.
On top of the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Black communities, there is a longstanding distrust of America’s health care system in Black communities due to decades of exploitation by physicians and researchers.
“Many times, it takes a while for good things to get to Black people,” Hamblin said. “Don’t let the vaccine be one of those things.”
Hamblin added that as a Black woman and physician, she understands the hesitancy to get the vaccine. She said she weighed the risks versus the overall outcome before deciding to go through with getting it.
“If I feel like I do not want to contract this deadly disease, I don’t want to lose another friend or family member, I could have the chance to not be worried when I could hug and kiss my kids,” Hamblin said, noting some of the positive impacts of the virus. “Of course there are unknown things with what I ate for lunch or any other exposure that I don’t know of… The risks of the vaccine are less than my risks of getting COVID. That’s what pushed me over the edge.”
Hamblin and Martin both have received their first dose of their vaccine.
County residents will be able to access the vaccine through its local hospitals, primary care physicians, pharmacies, and a to-be-announced community vaccination clinic in partnership with Lancaster County government, said John Lines, director of communications for Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health.
Pennsylvania is still in its first phase of vaccine distribution, which means frontline health care workers and people in long-term care facilities were first up to receive the vaccine. Gov. Tom Wolf signed a temporary waiver Thursday that allows Department of State-licensed pharmacists to order and administer vaccines without a doctor’s order, which is usually required.
Hamblin urged those who do not currently have a primary care provider to make contact with one now to ensure they can access the vaccine, before the state moves into its next vaccination phase.
Lancaster General Health is currently providing vaccines to its employees and all health care personnel who qualify under the Pennsylvania Department of Health 1A guidelines.
There is no central website or location for county residents to register to get the vaccine. You can determine which group you are in to receive the vaccine here.
Although both of the U.S.-approved vaccines are more than 90% effective in preventing harmful COVID-19 symptoms, doctors do not know whether the vaccination prevents transmission of the virus, Martin said.
Neither doctor experienced side effects from the vaccine, which is another largely-held concern about the quick-developed medicine. There are few variations between the two mRNA vaccines by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna, though the Pfizer vaccine has “more logistical problems” and requires the doses to be stored in -94°F temperatures. Moderna’s vaccine must be held at -4°F temperatures, making it more easy to distribute.
It is unlikely for people who have had COVID-19 and recovered from the virus to recontract the virus within 90 days, Martin said. People who have already had the virus should still get the vaccine because researchers don’t know how long the immunity lasts for, he added.
Town hall participants were able to ask the physicians questions, all of which surrounded the current status of the COVID-19 pandemic such as the new United Kingdom variant of the virus and whether LGH expects to see another surge in cases.
Martin said the U.K. strain doesn’t appear to be any worse than other strains of the virus, but is easier to transmit from person to person.
The vaccine may be able to prepare the body for this new strain, Hamblin said, though it will not be known for several months and should not deter people from getting the vaccine when it is made available to them.
Lancaster General Health has an average of 90-120 cases under their care each day, with a peak around New Year’s Day. There were only four intensive care beds open at the county’s largest health system on Jan. 1, LNP | LancasterOnline previously reported. The hospital has plans to open additional beds for COVID-19 patients, should there be another surge, Martin said.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story stated county residents will be able to access the vaccine through their employer. Vaccines will be distributed through a number of local partnerships including in pharmacies, hospitals, and a future mass vaccination clinic in partnership with Lancaster County government.