Erie County COVID-19 vaccination rates vary due to politics, access

CORRY — Helen Willis is among the nearly 55% of southeastern Erie County residents who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 nearly two years after the vaccines became available.

The retired nurse from Columbus Township listed several reasons why she hasn’t been vaccinated, including the deaths of her two sisters in 2021.

“They both got vaccinated in May and they both died in October,” said Willis, 74. “My one sister didn’t have pneumonia when she got the shot, two weeks later she got pneumonia and never got out of the hospital. The other got a fast-growing brain tumor.”

Though none of the COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to cause pneumonia or brain tumors, Willis said she believes there was a link.

Instead of getting vaccinated, Willis takes a weekly dose of ivermectin, the anti-parasite drug that some people use, hoping to cure or prevent COVID-19 — though no study has shown it is effective, the Food & Drug Administration reported.

“I also take vitamin C and vitamin D,” Willis said. “I think I got COVID in the winter of 2019-20 and haven’t had it since.”

Erie County reached a significant COVID-19 vaccination milestone in early October as 60% of all county residents are now fully vaccinated, meaning they have received — at a minimum — their primary series of shots.

A closer look at vaccination rates

Data from the Erie County Department of Health shows that those rates vary significantly throughout the county, from a high of 74.4% in Mill Village (ZIP code 16427) to a low of 40.4% in a section of Erie’s east side (ZIP code 16503).

But a majority of the lowest vaccination rates are found in rural Erie County, particularly the westernmost portions of Erie County and the entire southeastern part of the county. For example:

  • Springfield Township (16411) — 40.9%
  • Albion (16401) — 42.8%
  • Corry (16407) — 44.3%
  • Union City (16438) — 45.4%

“The most frustrating aspect of this is that we had an opportunity to nail this baby when the vaccine first came out,” said Jim Caputo, LECOM Health’s vaccine coordinator. “The vaccine was such a good match to the original virus. It saved lives and kept people out of the hospital.”

Jason Turba, a LECOM Health pharmacist, fills single-dose syringes with the Pfizer bivalent COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination clinic Oct. 7 at the LECOM Center for Health & Aging, 3910 Schaper Ave.

Demand for vaccine plummeted dramatically in the county during spring 2021, from a high of more than 17,000 doses given the week of March 8 to fewer than 4,000 doses given the week of June 14.

It wasn’t because every eligible county resident had received their shots. Less than 50% of the eligible population was fully vaccinated at that point, according to Erie County Department of Health data.

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