The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY)

Boosters, employer mandates drive increase in US vaccines

- By John Seewer

The number of Americans getting COVID-19 vaccines has steadily increased to a three-month high as seniors and people with medical conditions seek boosters, and government and employer mandates push more workers to take their first doses.

Demand is expected to spike in a few weeks when elementary school children can begin getting shots, and some states are reopening mass vaccinatio­n clinics in anticipati­on.

In Missouri, a mass vaccinatio­n site at a former Toys R Us store is set to open Monday. Virginia plans to roll out nine large vaccinatio­n centers over the next few weeks, including one at the Richmond Internatio­nal Raceway.

Colorado opened four mass vaccinatio­n sites in mid-september, largely to deal with employer mandates, and officials saw a 38% increase in vaccinatio­ns statewide during the first week.

The total number of doses being administer­ed in the

U.S. is climbing toward an average of 1 million per day, almost double the level from mid-july — but still far below last spring.

On Thursday, 1.1 million doses were delivered, including just over 306,000 to newly vaccinated people, said Dr. Cyrus Shahpar, the White House COVID-19 data director.

Organizers of the effort to reach the roughly 67 million unvaccinat­ed American

adults say the rise in demand can be traced to approval of the Pfizer booster, mandates that have forced employees to choose between the shot and their jobs and sobering statistics that show nearly all COVID-19 deaths are among the unvaccinat­ed.

“We’re seeing people who need the shot to keep a job,” said Dr. Ricardo Gonzalezfi­sher, who runs a mobile vaccine clinic mostly for Latinos in Colorado.

Last weekend, his clinic delivered 30 shots to people outside the Mexican Consulate in Denver. “On these days, 30 is a very good number,” he said.

Virginia’s state vaccine coordinato­r, Dr. Danny Avula, said opening the large vaccinatio­n centers, will allow local health department­s to focus on reaching underserve­d communitie­s. “This should really help relieve the burden for our local providers,” he said.

Last week, the number of people getting shots at a mall in Charlottes­ville, Virginia, doubled over the previous week, said Ryan Mckay, who oversees COVID-19 operations for the Blue Ridge Health District.

The big push now, he said, is in neighborho­ods where rates are low. The health district has set up mobile clinics at weekend basketball tournament­s, high school football games and even at a corner market where 20 people were vaccinated in a day.

“Those 20 vaccinatio­ns sound small, but it’s really a huge success,” Mckay said.

Vice President Kamala Harris stopped Friday at vaccine center in Newark, New Jersey, where she met with patients and health care workers and encouraged people to get the shot.

“There will be an end to this,” she said. “We really feel we are starting to get in front of this.”

Alba Lopez in Ohio decided to get the Pfizer vaccine Friday at the Columbus Public Health Department after tiring of twice-weekly testing required by her employer, Chase Bank, and filling out an online form each day indicating whether she had a fever and how she felt.

The vaccine “helped me to avoid all that,” said Lopez, who also figured her company will eventually require it.

Health officials in Springfiel­d, Missouri, an early epicenter of the delta surge, are opening the new vaccinatio­n site at the former toy store because they anticipate seeing an influx of people.

“All told, in the coming weeks and months, we are expecting more than 120,000 people to seek vaccine,” said

Jon Mooney, assistant director of the Springfiel­d-greene County Health Department. “We are already experienci­ng increased demand in the last week or two.”

Cases in the Springfiel­d area are falling, but 78 people remain hospitaliz­ed in the city, and federal officials have determined that community transmissi­on remains high.

Mitchell Maccarone, 24, got his second shot Thursday at a CVS Pharmacy in North Smithfield, Rhode Island. He wanted to wait until the vaccine received full FDA approval.

“Before I put something in my body, I want to make sure it’s fully approved,” he said. “I’m also not in a highrisk age group. I am healthy, and I had COVID, and it was really just the sniffles.”

Vaccinatio­n sites that opened within the past week in Memphis, Tennessee, and Tampa, Florida, drew mostly people seeking booster shots and only a handful of people getting their first or second shots, said organizers who expect demand to rise.

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