COVID-19 a preventable disease, county Health Officer stresses in update to County Commission

68% of all county residents eligible by age have been vaccinated

Editor’s note: This article was updated early in the afternoon of July 22 to clarify that the figure for vaccinations in the United States represents the total number of doses given as of the date of Health Officer Chuck Henry’s presentation.

Health Officer Chuck Henry addresses the commissioners on April 7. File image

“COVID-19 is now a vaccine-preventable disease,” Sarasota County Health Officer Chuck Henry stressed to the county commissioners this week.

“What’s keeping our community safe is vaccines,” he pointed out. “Ninety-five percent of our COVID-19 cases [in the county] are in unvaccinated individuals.”

Henry added of persons who are getting sick, “It’s just sad to me,” because the illness could be prevented. “I want to encourage people to get vaccinated.”

The positivity rate in the county over the past 14 days, Henry noted, averaged 5.43%. The 14-day average for the number of new COVID-19 cases was 39. “Those numbers are up over last month.” However, he added, they are not at a level he finds alarming. “We expect them to come up in the summer as travel opens up from Memorial Day through the Fourth of July.”

Altogether, he said, 271,699 people in Sarasota County have been vaccinated. That figure represents 68% of all individuals eligible by age to get their shots, he noted. The percentage of vaccinated persons out of the entire county population is 62%, Henry said. “That number’s really good. It’s one of the highest percentages across the state.” Still, he added, “I’d like it to be higher.”

Of persons age 65 and above in the county, he continued, “Well over 90% are protected [by vaccination].”

The county also is averaging about 10 new hospitalizations a week, Henry told the commissioners. “That number … remains way down.”

Of individuals eligible to get vaccinated, he pointed out, the rates are lowest for those between ages 20 and 40; about 35% of people in that age range are vaccinated. For those in their 40s, he continued, just over 40% are vaccinated.

Finally, Henry noted, about 25% of youth in the county who are ages 12 to 17 have been vaccinated. Twelve is the youngest age the federal government’s emergency authorization allows for vaccinations, he reminded the commissioners, and the Pfizer product is the only one that can be used.

These are the data that Chuck Henry showed the commissioners on July 14. Image courtesy Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County

Commissioner Nancy Detert asked Henry, “Since it’s younger people that are ignoring the fact that they could have the vaccine,” does he have plans to try to make vaccine available on the local college and technical college campuses?

He and his staff worked with leaders of those institutions on pop-up clinics during the spring semester, Henry replied, “and we’ve already been reaching out to schools” to do the same when their fall semesters begin. Thus far, he added, he believed New College of Florida was the only area institution of higher learning that had scheduled a date.

If vaccine is readily convenient, Detert responded, she believes younger people will get their shots

Henry also reminded the commissioners that the clinics that the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County (DOH-Sarasota) hosted at Sarasota Square Mall handled about 4,000 people a day at the height of the vaccination process in the spring. “That [number] dropped off to less than 50 a day,” he added, which was the reason the clinic closed.

DOH-Sarasota does offer the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines at its offices in downtown Sarasota and in North Port, he pointed out. (The respective addresses are 2200 Ringling Blvd, Sarasota and 6950 Outreach Way.)

The hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, though staffs at both locations take a short lunch break, Henry said. Walk-ins are welcome; no appointments are necessary. “And we’re seeing, I would say, between 30 and 40 [people] a day” between the two sites, he told the board members.

The DOH-Sarasota staff also is continuing to work with community leaders — including those representing churches and the All Faiths Food Bank — to schedule pop-up clinics, Henry pointed out. They especially are focusing on minority residents, he added.

These are the latest data for Sarasota County and other counties from the Florida Department of Health in Tallahassee. The figures reflect the status of cases and vaccinations as of the week of July 2-8. This data is not as current as the figures Chuck Henry provided this week to the County Commission. Image courtesy Florida Department of Health

Further, the DOH-Sarasota staff has been partnering this summer with the Sarasota County School District to provide vaccinations to youth ages 12 through 17. That initiative will continue through early August, Henry said.

Worldwide, Henry continued, more than 3.5 billion persons have been vaccinated; in the United States, the number of doses administered is a little higher than 330 million.

His key message, Henry emphasized, is, “The vaccines work.”
Nonetheless, he noted that “a lot of people … have concerns about the vaccines. I totally respect that.”

A small number of problems have been associated with the shots, he continued. However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages individuals, family members and physicians who are aware of post-vaccination issues to report them.

“The system is working,” Henry added, as evidenced by the directive this week about the Johnson & Johnson shot. (Earlier this week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a new warning for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, saying it had been “linked to a serious but rare side effect called Guillain-Barre syndrome, in which the immune system attacks the nerves,” The Washington Post reported. “Most people fully recover from Guillain-Barre,” the Post pointed out.)

Whenever CDC staff members feel they are seeing a trend, Henry explained, “They throw up a flag,” investigate and call for a pause in use of the vaccine.

This is information on the CDC website about activities fully vaccinated persons can pursue. For the active links in this block, visit the CDC website

Henry also noted that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which use a relatively new technology, are proving to be 94% to 96% effective, “which is great for a vaccine.”

Most of the so-called “breakthrough cases,” he explained, are being seen in persons who are older and in those who have underlying health problems, as the latter do not have immune systems “as robust” as other people.

Testing and more vaccine encouragement

He reminded the commissioners that anyone who wishes to be tested for COVID-19 may go to the drive-through testing site located at the former Sarasota Kennel Club, which is located at 5400 Old Bradenton Road in Sarasota (34234).

That site is open Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and it will test anyone regardless of symptoms, G. Steve Huard, the DOH-Sarasota public information officer, has noted in advisories.

Finally, Henry told the commissioners, he and his staff are continuing to encourage people who are not vaccinated to wear masks and practice social distancing. “If you’re not vaccinated,” he added, “you’re at risk.” Even if a person with COVID-19 has no symptoms, he stressed, that person could put other individuals at risk.

Henry also pointed out that anyone who is sick should stay at home.

These are Chuck Henry’s key messages to the community. Image courtesy Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County

Commissioner Christian Ziegler, who is vice chair of the Republican Party of Florida, referenced a recent Biden Administration effort to send persons door-to-door to encourage individuals who are unvaccinated to get their shots. When Ziegler asked whether DOH-Sarasota has plans to do that, Henry replied, “I’ve not heard of that in the state of Florida.”

Ziegler pointed out that he has “been very supportive” of vaccination efforts, but “I also believe that the vaccine’s a choice, right? People can make their own decision.”

Henry responded, “My goal is to try to provide as much data and education as I can … so people can make an appropriate choice.”