Vaccinate Lancaster

Pictured is the Lancaster County Community Vaccination Center in the former Bon-Ton store at Park City Center on Tuesday, March 9, 2021.

THE ISSUE

The Lancaster County Community Vaccination Center may close earlier than its previously announced closing date, LNP | LancasterOnline’s Carter Walker reported last week, though there doesn’t seem to be any clarity on when exactly it will close. “When plans for the community vaccination center at Park City Center were being finalized in February, Dr. Michael Ripchinski, the chief clinical officer for Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, said the plan was to run the facility through the end of June,” Walker reported. LG Health spokesman John Lines said the Lancaster County Community Vaccination Center “is expected to continue operations at least through the beginning of June.” No decision, Lines said, had been “made on a closure date prior to June 30.”

It would be a lousy idea to shutter the Lancaster County Community Vaccination Center before the task of vaccinating most county residents is completed.

As of Friday, just 41% of Lancaster County’s total population had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to state Department of Health data. As Walker reported, “Health experts say far more people need to be fully vaccinated to attain herd immunity.”

And it’s not as if the pandemic is over in Lancaster County.

Lines, the LG Health spokesman, said Lancaster General Hospital still had “multiple units” with COVID-19 patients Friday. And COVID-19 was a “contributing factor” for why this county’s largest hospital had to switch to critical-care diversion status at one point last week (meaning it could not begin elective cases that required a critical-care bed after surgery, and could not accept patient transfers from other hospitals for a period of 12 hours).

Samantha Simmons, a worker at the Lancaster County Community Vaccination Center, told Walker that her hours were reduced last week because of what a representative of the staffing agency, TriStarr, called a “precipitous drop” in demand.

“I am devastated by this,” Simmons said in an email. “Vaccinate Lancaster is an invaluable resource.”

The center has vaccinated more than 150,000 people since opening but, Simmons noted, “there are still hundreds of thousands that need vaccines.”

She is exactly right.

Our economy is not going to fully recover until more people are vaccinated. And hospital workers here are exhausted; they’ve been battling this pandemic for more than a year. They need people to get vaccinated.

Here is why we’re concerned: In an email, Brett Marcy, spokesman for the Lancaster County Community Vaccination Center, said the center “continues to operate with a planned end date of June 30. Any decision to end operations prior to that date would be dependent upon patient volumes.” (Italics are ours.)

He said the center “continues to vaccinate our community at a strong pace, with an average of 3,500 to 4,000 vaccines per day, including both first and second doses. We also continue to see approximately 200 walk-in and same-day appointment patients daily.”

And he said “we do not currently see a need to end operations prior to June 30.” (Again, the italics are ours.)

This is not a business that’s subject to market forces — this provides an invaluable public health service.

To ensure ready access to vaccines into the summer, why couldn’t the vaccination center scale down — according to “patient volumes” — instead of closing its doors?

If the center closes prematurely, what is going to happen when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorizes COVID-19 vaccines for use among 12- to 15-year-olds? Pfizer requested such authorization in early April. When it’s safely granted, are pediatricians’ offices going to be able to handle COVID-19 vaccination?

One other question: If demand for COVID-19 vaccination at the community center is dropping precipitously, why aren’t Lancaster County officials doing more to encourage people to get vaccinated?

This county’s health

Asked last week if he believes it is his responsibility to encourage county residents to get the vaccine, Josh Parsons, chairman of the Lancaster County Board of Commissioners, said he trusted residents to educate themselves and make an informed choice.

“I’m not part of the nanny state that believes people’s lives need to be controlled or be lectured to,” Parsons said.

This — right there — is a reason why public health experts, not politicians, ought to make public health decisions.

If we asked Parsons to convey in 20 words or fewer why Lancaster County would benefit from a public health department, his needlessly derisive, politically divisive “nanny state” response would do it.

Parsons doesn’t seem to understand the distinction between mandating personal decisions and actively promoting the health and welfare of Lancaster County residents.

He didn’t understand it regarding mask-wearing, when he attended political events unmasked, instead of using every opportunity to set an example for his fellow Republicans and to counter the politicization of face masks. And he doesn’t seem to understand now why, as an elected county official, he has an obligation to encourage vaccination.

Not mandate. Encourage.

As Mary Glazier, a retired Millersville University professor, wrote in a letter to the editor that was published Friday, “Parsons needs to understand that communicating the importance of vaccination for the welfare and health of all is not based on a belief that ‘people’s lives need to be controlled or be lectured to.’ Assuring people that the vaccine is both safe and necessary for the protection of everyone in the community is leadership.”

Another letter writer, David Ehrlich of Manheim Township, asked, of Parsons: “Isn’t it his job, and that of his fellow commissioners, to make sure that the county thrives? How is that going to happen if too many people choose not to get vaccinated?

“There is a role for government to play in defeating this pandemic, and encouraging people to get vaccinated is probably first and foremost.”

We could not agree more.

Parsons consistently — and responsibly — uses social media to warn county residents about potentially damaging weather events. Why is he so reluctant to use his public platform to consistently promote COVID-19 vaccination, especially when it would advance the priority he placed throughout this pandemic on the county’s economic well-being?

As conservative Stuart Wesbury, former LNP | LancasterOnline Editorial Board member and frequent Opinion contributor, writes today, this is not “a conservative or liberal issue.”

Indeed it is not.

The need to persuade people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 demands an all-hands-on-deck response from everyone, elected officials included.

Public health experts say we’re in a race against this novel coronavirus and its variants to get people protected before they get infected.

And as Dr. Jerome Adams, U.S. surgeon general under President Donald Trump, wrote last week in The Washington Post: “We can’t reach the COVID-19 finish line with only half the herd. ... To finish this race and safely reopen, we urgently need to make it easier for holdouts to get vaccinated and implement new strategies to encourage them to do so.”

The Lancaster County Community Vaccination Center makes it easy for county residents to get vaccinated. It’s accessible by public transportation. It’s in a visible location.

To close it prematurely would be an epic failure.

Register to vote

Monday is the last day to register to vote in the May 18 primary election.

Only registered Democrats and Republicans can vote for their party’s nominees for municipal office.

But four important questions are on the ballot — two relating to a governor’s emergency declaration powers — and all registered voters can have their say on them.

Go to votespa.com to register online or register in person at the Lancaster County Voter Registration Office at 150 N. Queen St., Suite 117, at the Lancaster County Government Center downtown.

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