Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave said recently the county is “sharpening our pencils” for some advance planning on how to disseminate COVID-19 vaccinations once they become available.
That date is still up in the air with testing still being done and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimating it may come in January, but it’s good that local officials are starting to plan now.
By Delagrave’s early estimate, Racine County will need 60,000 vaccinations and will require 20 to 30 people to safely and effectively administer them over a period of 7 to 10 days.
Our first blush reaction to that number — 60,000 vaccines — was that it would not be nearly enough since Racine County has a population approaching 200,000 residents.
But a combination of vaccines and exposure from those who have already contracted COVID-19 might reach the level of herd immunity that is required to blunt the disease that has ravaged the country with more than 211,000 deaths, according to health officials.
Here in Racine County, the death toll stood at 99 deaths as of Friday; in Wisconsin, which has seen a recent surge in cases, deaths totaled 1,440 and the number of current hospitalizations was 894.
So Delagrave is right — now is the time to do the planning for the hoped-for vaccine that could put an end to this scourge.
A good place to start is to look at the statistics and see who has been most severely impacted by the coronavirus — and that seems to indicate that elderly people should be first in line for those vaccinations when they become available.
Looking at state Department of Health Services numbers, 1,252 of the state’s 1,440 deaths, more than 85 percent, have been among Badger State residents over the age of 60.
And when we look at the number of hospitalizations, we see an echo of that, with the vast majority coming among state residents over the age of 50.
That doesn’t mean young people don’t contract COVID. In fact, according to DHS statistics, the largest age group which has contracted the coronavirus is ages 20-29, with 24 percent of the cases. That’s followed closely by those ages 30-39 with 15 percent of total cases. Those ages 10-19 account for 12 percent of confirmed cases and those under age 10 account for just 3 percent.
Those numbers tell us that younger people are more resilient in dealing with the COVID impact when they contract it, and that the elderly suffer more severe consequences in terms of requiring hospitalizations and facing the risk of death.
Those trends need to be part of the equation when Delagrave sorts out the tough question of who gets those first vaccinations. Nursing homes and other elder-care facilities should be high on the list.
We don’t know if there will be a run on a COVID-19 vaccine when it finally is developed — and we suspect there may those who are leery of getting the first round of shots or doses until they have been proven effective, without any side effects.
Other institutions, such as schools and businesses, should also be looking down the road and doing some planning on how they will handle the advent of vaccines. Will schools require them for all students as they do now with other infectious diseases? Will businesses intent on protecting their workplaces and forestalling any shutdowns require employees to get vaccinated as a condition of employment?
Those are contentious questions and ones that should be addressed — by school boards, businesses and other institutions — now in open discussion and debate while we have the “luxury” of time since a COVID-19 vaccine is not yet ready for market.
We need to be ready for it and do it without a last-minute furor.
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