Theresa Freed 00:00
Johnson County continues to work towards population immunity but some remain hesitant to get the vaccine. On this episode hear why young adults are choosing to get vaccinated and the opportunities available to them.
Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.
Theresa Freed 00:26
Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go, I'm your host Theresa Freed a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. According to CDC guidance, those who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear masks. But despite that good news, some Still have questions about the vaccines before they're ready to roll up their sleeves, or they just haven't made the time to get vaccinated. So here to talk more about vaccinating young adults we have with us Alisa Pacer director of emergency management with Johnson County Community College. And we also have some Johnson County Department of Health and Environment young adults who are also epidemiologists. And then we also have JCDHE epidemiology director, Elizabeth Holzschuh. So just First of all, Elizabeth, do you want to talk about the latest on Johnson County reaching population immunity
Elizbeth Holzschuh 01:13
In our 65 and up population we have tremendous uptake of the vaccine. And our data shows that over 80%, and it could be as high as almost 90% of that age group has been fully vaccinated, which is excellent, because we know that they are at the highest risk for severe illness due to COVID-19, as well as hospitalization and death. But what we're also seeing is that as the age groups decrease as we get younger in age, we're definitely seeing less uptake of the vaccine. And you know, even in our 20 and 30 year olds who have been eligible for this vaccine, since we opened it up to the entire population, we're still only sitting at about 30 or 40% of that age group, even being partially vaccinated or fully vaccinated. And so because we're seeing this group, not take up the vaccine as much as we would like, and as much as we really need to get that population immunity, we're really moving into this community immunization events, community vaccine events. And really what that means is instead of asking people to come to our mass vaccination clinics like our one in Lenexa, or, you know, move one of our hospital clinics, we're bringing vaccine to the community trying to meet community members where they are. And this means, you know, as you're driving down a road in Mission, Kansas, you may see our team out there vaccinating. And so the idea behind this is to really remove those barriers. I don't think that this age group is particularly vaccine hesitant as we call or or even resistant to getting the vaccine. I think that they're busy. And it's just not maybe a priority for them to seek out that appointment or drive to our Lenexa site. But if we provide it to them at someplace that's convenient someplace that they already are, there's an increased likelihood that they're just going to go ahead and get it because it's again, it's not that they don't want it. It's just they haven't made the time in their lives to get it.
Theresa Freed 02:54
So for our epidemiology, staff members here, if you guys want to introduce yourselves, just tell us a little bit about your role with the county,
DC Okonta 03:03
My name is DC Okonta. I'm a disease investigator with Johnson County Health Department and I work primarily providing guidance for those schools here in Johnson County.
Danielle Roethler 03:14
Hi, I'm Danielle Roethler, and I'm an epidemiologist here at Johnson County Department of Health and Environment. I primarily work with our case investigators and help support them in doing case investigations. I help coordinate our whole genome sequencing that we're doing to see which variants are spreading around Johnson County, and I also do what I can to help support the vaccine clinic.
Gabe Hawkins 03:36
Hi, I'm Gabe Hawkins. I'm an epidemiologist as well with the Johnson County Department of Health and Evironment and like DC, I also work with the schools provide recommendations, help them through situations and help them record data.
Jackson Ward 03:48
I am Jackson Ward, I'm also an epidemiologist with JCDHE, my primary role is to work with the case investigators. And then additionally, I organize a lot of the Johnson and Johnson vaccinations throughout the county.
Theresa Freed 04:03
So just in terms of the interest of getting vaccinated, what are some of the things that we're hearing or seeing among young adults if any of our epis want to take this one?
DC Okonta 04:12
What I've heard from purely talking to friends and things. It's waiting to see what's going to happen with folks who are who have already taken it, the one that makes sure that it's safe for the long term.
Theresa Freed 04:27
We're here talking about young adults and getting them vaccinated. And I would assume, based on our conversation here, you all are vaccinated. So can you tell me, why did you decide to get vaccinated?
DC Okonta 04:39
Yeah, I decided to get vaccinated for two main reasons. The first reason is because I had a family member who got sick, was hospitalized and eventually died due to COVID-19. And I thought it was due a lot of that was due to some of the misinformation that was being put around around the start of the pandemic. And then the second reason I got vaccinated is because I do know that people of color are disproportionately burdened by COVID-19 being infected being hospitalized and even death. So I thought if I got vaccinated that could spur one person, two people to get vaccinated as well. And help break those chains of transmission among the communities of color.
Danielle Roethler 05:30
Yeah, so I also have different reasons, but two main reasons why I chose to get vaccinated. One was just thinking of my friends and family and doing my part to protect them and the community as a whole. One of my really close friends, is immune compromised, she has a young child who hasn't been able to get his full series of vaccines and would not qualify for COVID 19 vaccine at this point because of his age. So thinking about my friends and family who are I was missing during stay at home orders and earlier in the pandemic. And the second big reason is I actually had COVID. In mid November, I caught COVID-19, not 100% sure where it was kind of during that peak of community transmission. Fortunately, I was never hospitalized, but I was pretty close, I had some pretty severe symptoms. And so just thinking of that, and not wanting to go through that, again, that was honestly the sickest I had been, I never had breathing issues before. So is really scary for me. So anything I could do to prevent not being that sick, again, definitely factored into my decision.
Theresa Freed 06:38
Absolutely. All right, Gabe?
Gabe Hawkins 06:41
Well, I got vaccinated. I mean, first and foremost, I like to set a good example. And so I did it and shared it with on social media with everyone, you know, all my friends and family. Another big reason I have a few nieces and nephews that I have not seen in some time now. Two that live, just not not too far away in the Kansas City metro area. And I would really like to see them. My, my daughter was born just a few months before the pandemic started. And there were a lot of things that we wanted to do with her last summer that we weren't able to because I mean, we were trying to set a good example to other families. And I mean, and things were shut down. And I really want my daughter to know her cousins and her family and she hasn't been able to see any in over a year at this point. So I just, you know, I want I want to see my family and I want I want my daughter to see these people, for the first time for some of them and just get to know them. So
Theresa Freed 07:44
Jackson Ward 07:48
Yeah, so I think the the primary driver behind me wanting to get vaccinated was certainly to be closer to family. You know, my, my family does not live in Kansas. So for me to be able to visit them is plane rides or long car rides and interacting with lots of individuals. And the best way to reduce my risk and reduce the risk of spreading it to my family or anyone that I would encounter along the way was certainly to get vaccinated. I think also to echo Gabe's point. As epidemiologists and public health practitioners, it's instrumental for us if we're going to talk to others in the community about getting vaccinated, it's really important for us to share personal experiences. You know, we certainly would not advocate for a medical intervention that we would not feel comfortable taking ourselves. And I think that's something our whole team takes a lot of pride in is taking that research on, knowing that people in the community look to us, and making sure that we've done our due diligence so that when people come to us for that subject matter expertise, we're able to speak to that, and also provide that personal or that anecdotal story that helps them as well.
Theresa Freed 09:00
Right. Those are all really great perspectives. And, Alisa, do you want to also share with us why you decided to get vaccinated?
Alisa Pacer 09:07
Sure, I'm happy to kind of like what Gabe, and Jackson said, I feel like leading our crisis here at the Johnson County Community College that I felt, you know, obligated to lead by example, make sure that I'm doing all my research making sure that I'm informed so that I can spread good information. And fortunately, I work in emergency management under the police department here the college and you know, the police agency itself was one of those first agencies able to be vaccinated as critical essential workers.
Theresa Freed 09:40
And so what have been some of the the challenges in terms of getting students at the community college vaccinated, I'm sure now that we're into the summer months, the challenges grow a little bit, but can you talk about some of the ways you have overcome that?
Alisa Pacer 09:55
So ways that we are, I guess ways that we are trying to overcome that we have done two student vaccination clinics with Advent Health. As a partnership after our employee vaccination clinic, they open it up to see if we wanted to offer to students to and, of course we did. And the disadvantages, one of the ways we communicate with students is via email. And often students don't check their jccc.edu email or student mail account. So just trying to get the information in their hands, you know, follow up with some social media to include with that. And then coming up the summer. In fact, in the next week and a half, we are doing student vaccination clinics on campus to try to reach any of those face to face students that are returning for summer classes, that first week of school. So I think one other challenge has been just our reduced face to face classes. If people aren't on campus, you know, the, that's difficult just to reach them in general. So just communication is probably the largest challenge.
Theresa Freed 11:11
And I imagine our epis would certainly agree with that. So how do you reach this demographic? What are the what are the best ways to get the word out that the vaccine is safe, and it's very accessible, you can get it in lots of places. I mean, even you know, as we heard coming to the community college, so that you don't have to travel,
Jackson Ward 11:29
You hit on a great point, especially when you're targeting a younger demographic, but also just to the community at large, when you're trying to reach certain people in the community and perform intervention, it's most important to meet them where they're at. So you know, it's when you do have something like this vaccine, it's so safe and so effective. A lot of times, it's just people aren't necessarily thinking about all of those things before they're planning a trip or wherever. So if you meet them, when they're out in a location in the community, you meet them in a park or at a festival or at a Runwell event. On June 3, there are just ways to really meet the community where they're at, it makes it so convenient for them, and then they're more willing to participate, especially when you're there you can answer any questions they may have, that they may not have the opportunity to add a larger vaccine event.
Theresa Freed 12:28
Do you think for young adults, it's it's the convenience, that's a concern or inhibiting the, the getting of the vaccine? Or do you think that there are still lingering questions about whether it's, it's safe? I know, I've heard, you know, concerns about things like fertility, and you know, we're talking about young young people who maybe think starting to think about their futures and family planning and things like that. So what are you hearing?
Jackson Ward 12:53
I think that's certainly a factor. You know, convenience is definitely one thing. But we also, you know, there are concerns from individuals where they may not understand the whole process. And so they understandably have questions about it, the timeline or the fertility concerns that some people may have. And so I think that's why it's so important to have these smaller events, because you really create that environment where you can have those one on one conversations with them, let them know that at the research shows that there are no fertility concerns, you know, it has been proven time and time again, time and time again, to be safe and effective, you know, not only at reducing the risk of hospital transmission, reducing the risk of death, and also just reducing overall any of those adverse effects that we are seeing in individuals, especially in the individuals that our younger demographic is interacting with. So while we in our 20s, and 30s, maybe less prone to experiencing those severe side effects, or those severe symptoms, hospitalization, we are interacting with our parents or our grandparents or our neighbors, who rely on us to be protected through the vaccine, in order for them to also get life closer to normal.
Theresa Freed 14:21
Another concern I've heard about is, I thought everybody knew this. But of course, you know, I'm in this world every day, but some people don't realize that this vaccine is free. Is that something that you all are hearing as well,
DC Okonta 14:33
Personally, I'm hearing a lot of people they're questioning whether or not they have to pay for and that's inhibiting them from finding a clinic where they don't even know that the health department's even providing access to that to those vaccines. They're thinking they have to go to a doctor's office or that their insurance is going to be charged but the vaccine is 100%. Free. You do not have to pay for it. You can go to Johnson County Health Department to our clinic on 108th in Lenexa to get the vaccine. Like Jackson said we have clinics popping up in the community like the Runwell store on June 3. Sandhills brewery and on June 9, they're going to be several community events are going to be available that are free, they're a walk-in that you can come in and get a vaccine.
Theresa Freed 15:19
That's great. And I know the community clinic concept is a little bit new, we've shifted away from these large vaccine distributions, there was sort of this immediate surge of people who were just very anxious to get the vaccine. And we've kind of gone past that. So now, as you all said, you know, we're kind of meeting people where they're at and making it as easy for them to get as possible. But I know at least with the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines that they do require two doses. So maybe we'll start with Alisa, if you want to talk about challenges of getting people back for that second dose,
Alisa Pacer 15:52
I think ways they overcome that is making sure that you communicate good with the first dose on where they can get vaccinated, how easy it can be for the second dose. And here at the college. We're planning both a June and a July event. So at the first June events, we can definitely market that they can come right back for their second event while they're still in summer school, etc. So I'm excited about that opportunity. It's a week longer than the 21 day timeframe, but definitely an opportunity for them to come back or making sure we have brochures available about the Lenexa clinic like what the folks were talking about,
DC Okonta 16:29
We do have a text service that you can use to figure out which clinics are closest to you which vaccine clinics are closest to you. And that number is 438829. So if you text your zip code to that number, it will tell you which clinics are closest to you.
Theresa Freed 16:45
Perfect. All right, great information there. I do want to talk a little bit more maybe the Gabe if you want to tell us a little bit about you know, having a new baby in the middle of a pandemic. Like how wonderful is that to be able to get vaccinated and to be able to show off your your baby.
Gabe Hawkins 17:08
It's great. I don't want to brag too much. But my wife and I, we put together a pretty beautiful baby. And it was difficult for us last summer when we wanted her to see all of our friends meet everyone, we knew that everyone was just kind of shuttered away it was it was hard not to be able to show her off. And you know, we're still not past that it'll probably be even with the friends and family that have been vaccinated already, it's still probably be some time before we can do that. We are looking forward to being able to, you know, take her to the pool. We took her to the Deana Rose Farmstead a few weeks ago. And there are a lot of people there, it made me maybe a little a little nervous not knowing how many of them are vaccinated. But I do I do feel more relief now that knowing knowing the numbers that there are as many people out there who have already been vaccinated, and seeing the people who are coming into the clinics right now, it makes me feel a little bit better about taking her out to those places. And I'm really looking forward to the fall and all the you know, city festivals and things like that, that, you know, if things continue to go well, she will probably open and looking forward to being able to take her out there and show her off.
Theresa Freed 18:25
That's great. And, Danielle, I think your story's an important one to share too. Because I think there there are some misconceptions about young people not being able to get really sick. And maybe just having asymptomatic infections. And so, you know, I myself also had COVID back in September, and I still have pros Mia. So I have altered taste and smell. And so you know, it's something that seriously impacts your quality of life, your your day to day and so I didn't have the issues with belongs or anything like that. But can you talk a little bit more about that?
Danielle Roethler 19:05
Yeah, so like I was saying earlier, I caught COVID back in mid November, I had pretty much every single symptom. You've heard the CDC mentioned on the news, difficulty breathing, GI issues, complete loss of smell and taste. And so yeah, I do I think it's important for young people to know that you can get sick you can get very sick from this. It fortunately I'm not having any serious, super long term long haul or symptoms. However, it did take a lot longer for me to recover from my COVID infection than I thought before I caught COVID I was in the gym lifting weights five days a week doing yoga going on walks every single day and for about a month after my infectious period ended and I was no longer contagious. I could barely walk to the park that's right across the street from my apartment. And take a walk. And that is very moderate activity compared to what I was doing pre COVID. So, fortunately, I have seem to have fully recovered, but it was a very slow process. And with variants and things like that going around, I'm really grateful I had access to the vaccine and was able to get it. Recently, the CDC announced that you have longer protection from the vaccine compared to when you have an actual infection. They think that you have some immunity to COVID for up to six months following the infection at some level. But the vaccine so far appears to be longer. So I'm really glad I made the decision to get it even though I've already had COVID. And yeah, it was pretty serious. It was it was pretty scary. I talked to my doctor almost every day, just to make sure that my symptoms weren't getting too serious, and that I didn't need to go to the hospital. And then just another thing I want people to know, I've heard a lot of people my age say they're nervous about the side effects of the COVID vaccine. Not that they think it's going to be super debilitating, but that's going to be annoying, and they are at increased risk for hospitalization. But as someone who has had both COVID-19 in the vaccine, I would pick the vaccine side effects a million times over to avoid having a COVID infection. So I think that's important for people to know.
Theresa Freed 21:29
Definitely agree it's, it's not something you want to mess with it because it just it affects people completely differently. I know in my own family, you know, my children had very mild infection, my husband had like a leg cramp. And then I was sick for weeks. You know, it's just it affects people differently. So I think that's an important message. Doesn't matter your age, you could get very sick if you don't get vaccinated. So just want to do one more final around the room on on what message you have to our listeners about why. Why I guess the vaccine is is something that that they should consider. And we'll start with Alisa.
Alisa Pacer 22:10
I think if we just share the the benefits of getting the vaccine I know here on our college campus as of June 1, we're following CDC guidance related to masking and distancing. So if you've had your vaccination and two weeks post vaccination and you're fully vaccinated, you can not wear a mask in those work areas and in those classrooms. So that's a huge benefit for folks if we've if we've come a long way. So and I know we have lots of other precautions that we have at the college community, the daily wellness check that we asked folks to do. We're still doing case management and reporting and tracking cases on campus. Of course, good hand washing and cleaning surfaces. So we have lots of precautions in place. And I think just sharing the benefits and making the information available to our students so that they know where they can go.
DC Okonta 23:10
Just make sure everyone stays safe, I mean there are things that as a you know, 30 year old young man I want to do, I want to go out, hang out with my friends, I want to go to brunch, I want to travel, I want to hang out with my family, in the safe in the safest way possible. like doing all those things, do all those things to do all those things in a safe way and and in a manner that is the lowest risk possible and doing and getting the vaccine will provide that low risk. It's safe, it's effective. It's extremely quick, come to the clinics to to appointments if you get the Pfizer or Moderna one appointment if you have the if you get the Johnson and Johnson is very quick, very easy. If you find one of us at the clinic, we're very nice people I promise you, we will not bite. So get the vaccine, continue to go back to doing what you love to do hanging out with your people, going out to restaurants, traveling doing all those things that we can get to some sort of normal
Danielle Roethler 24:18
And we want to get back to seeing our people and doing that in a safe way. The vaccine safe I'm so happy that I got it. And doing vaccination. It's such an energizing work as someone who's been working in public health since the beginning of this pandemic and doing case investigation and answering questions and helping businesses be compliant with COVID recommendations that we have. Being able to vaccinate people is so energizing it helps us see that there's an end in sight and that we're actually doing something positive. So yeah.
Theresa Freed 24:52
All right, Gabe? Final thoughts.
Gabe Hawkins 24:55
Not too much different from what the others have said. But I mean, I mean The main thing you you hear from friends family, I mean, people who call to the health department's, the main thing is, is everyone wants to things to go back to normal. And really, the only way that happens is herd immunity and everybody doing their part to get back to normal. So, you know, if you're one of those people who wants to, you know, start going to Royals games and tailgating and going to the pool and doing all the things that you know, before 2020 we kind of took for granted, then, I mean, do your part and go out and get vaccinated?
Theresa Freed 25:32
Jackson Ward 25:36
I think the the biggest thing our team has noticed throughout, you know, working on this, since the very first case of COVID, is how much of a game changer this vaccine was, for us. You know, a lot of the pandemic response from an epidemiologist perspective until you have an effective treatment or prevention mechanism, like a vaccine, it's a lot of treading water. You know, it's a lot of, we do our best and the community does their best. But you know, that virus's goal is just spread throughout the community. And, you know, when we were able to have such an incredible vaccine, that has been proven time and time again, to be safe and effective. And the more we learn about these vaccines, the more optimistic I think we all get, you know, the CDC continually expands how long the immunity is showing how long it's lasting for after vaccination. It's continually showing promising reductions in risk and hospitalizations, and severity of cases and transmission. So I think this vaccine has been incredibly successful. And the rollout is doing its job. And now it's really up to the community, you know, they've been doing their part, this entire pandemic, staying home wearing their masks, you know, physically distancing away from others. And this is really that last piece of the puzzle to get back to normal is getting that vaccine. You know, getting that immune protection, waiting out that two weeks after you've completed your vaccine series, and then really getting to enjoy all those things you wanted to do again, you know, seeing your family, going, like Gabe said, going out to sporting events or restaurants or all of those things. And you know, you can do those things safe and effectively. But you can do that even more so after the vaccine.
Theresa Freed 27:35
All right, great information. I thank you all for being here today to talk about this very important subject and hopefully some of our listeners have gathered some some good information or incentive at least to consider getting vaccinated. Well, Johnson County is as we said, has walk in clinic availability, you can also schedule a vaccine appointment. And please don't forget to get that second shot with the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. And then you need to wait that two weeks after that last shot to be fully vaccinated, get much more information and book your appointment. jocogov.org/coronavirus. Thanks for listening.
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