The Citizen launches dashboard to track local vaccinations

By Lars Åkerson, contributor

Click here to access the vaccination tracker

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the first Covid-19 lockdowns in the United States, we also mark the loss since then of more than half a million lives to the pandemic in this country, including more than 150 people in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.

While we have many tools at our disposal to control the spread of this virus and its variants, none have been more anticipated than the vaccines, the first of which was approved by the FDA in early December. As the national vaccination campaign gathers momentum, The Citizen is tracking its progress among Harrisonburg and Rockingham County residents.

The Virginia Department of Health collects vaccination information from healthcare providers and publishes aggregate data daily . Because people cross borders all the time for many reasons, including to be vaccinated, this data reflects vaccine recipients’ city or county of residence rather than site of vaccination. The number of shots administered is expected to eventually exceed the local population as both FDA-authorized vaccines require two doses. For this reason, these data also distinguish between the number of first doses given and people fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

The Citizen is publishing an automated tracker that summarizes and offers readers visualizations of this data. When the VDH updates its datasets each day, these charts will also display the latest figures. Vaccination rates are calculated using 2019 data from the National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau.

As reliable models emerge to estimate immunity gained by recovery from Covid-19, we may add this data to the chart of vaccination rates to offer a clearer picture of local progress toward population immunity. We hope to also include vaccine demographics as relevant datasets are made available to the public.

Upon inauguration, President Joe Biden launched a national campaign to give 100 million shots in his administration’s first 100 days. This campaign prioritizes the vaccination of high-risk, hardest-hit, and hard-to-reach populations, including healthcare personnel, minoritized groups, and residents of long-term care facilities, prisons, jails, and homeless shelters. The Citizen’s chart of total local vaccinations includes a simple population-weighted campaign benchmark for scale. If Harrisonburg and Rockingham County were representative of the country as a whole, around 45,850 shots would need to be given to area residents by April 30 to meet the campaign goal.

Vaccination is part of larger efforts to control the spread of Covid-19 and a key strategy for reaching herd immunity without further mass death. The herd-immunity threshold, at which point people still susceptible to the virus are protected because the immunity of others prevents the virus from spreading through the population, is difficult to determine in the case of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. The threshold is thought to be above 70%, but factors including differences in community spread mitigation strategies and the emergence of new variants affect the ability to set firm targets for herd immunity.

In most cases, infection with the virus also confers immunity upon recovery. Research has not yet confirmed the durability or quality of this immunity, though findings reported in the journal Science indicate some degree of protection may last at least six months. Those with immunity from infection may still carry and transmit the virus, so masking, distancing, and other protective measures remain important.

About a third of area residents over the age of 60 have gotten their first shot, but vaccines have similar caveats. The quality of immunity vaccines provide is high—significantly reducing or eliminating the likelihood of serious and moderate illness from Covid-19—though how long that immunity lasts is still unknown.

The outsized impacts of the pandemic on minoritized communities are well-established, and The Citizen has reported on difficulties some members of these communities have faced in getting vaccinated. The VDH reports that 4.6% of local Black residents, 3.0% of Latino residents, and 10.4% of white residents have received first doses of the vaccine. These are rough estimates: healthcare providers are not required to report race and ethnicity and the information has been omitted for one in five vaccination recipients. The Citizen will report more demographic data on vaccine distribution as it becomes available and invites suggestions for related stories of interest to our community.

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