As vaccinations rise, some vacillation


March 5, 2021

Contributed photo

Firefighters from Thomson Township went through the drive-up vaccination clinic Carlton County organized late last year in order to get health care workers and first responders clear of Covid-19 danger.

Although first responders in Minnesota got to jump to the front of the line for the Covid-19 vaccine, some have said "no" to getting vaccinated despite their elevated risk of contracting and spreading the coronavirus.

Like other states, Minnesota is giving high-risk groups priority access to the vaccine during the first phases of vaccination. That includes all health care workers - including doctors, nurses, firefighters, paramedics, and other public health officials and emergency personnel - and long-term care staff and residents, Covid-19 test and vaccination site workers, educators and those aged 65 and older. Combined, these groups amount to 1.7 million Minnesotans, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. As of Tuesday, March 2, a total of 1,383,609 vaccine doses had been administered across the state.

In Carlton County, by the end of February, 8,844 individuals had been vaccinated with at least one dose and 4,922 of those had completed their second and final dose. The total number of public health officials and first responders who have received the vaccine here is unknown.

The numbers vary from department to department, according to responses solicited by the Pine Knot News.

On the high end of the scale is the Cloquet Police Department, where 91.6 percent of their officers have received the vaccine, according to police chief Derek Randall.

Wrenshall fire chief Peter Laveau reported that 14 of their 19 firefighters, or 74 percent, accepted the vaccine and are waiting to get their second dose.

Carlton Fire and Ambulance reported that 34 of its 48 employees, or 71 percent, got the vaccine, according to the first assistant chief Lee Schelonka.

And on the low end of those who reported vaccination numbers, only 16 of 25 (64 percent) firefighters in the Thomson Township fire department have been vaccinated for Covid-19, with the other nine declining.

The Cloquet Area Fire District and the Carlton County Sheriff's Department were also contacted, but did not have vaccination numbers available.

Carlton County public information officer Meghann Levitt said some are choosing to wait.

"Many have shared that just because they have said 'no' during their 'phase' does not mean that is a hard 'no' for not getting the vaccine at all," she said.

Another factor for the lower reports for some of the area departments could be a lack of data. Levitt said because things are "all hands on deck" in order to get as many Minnesotans vaccinated as possible, some statistics on specific populations may not come until later. Confusion around the effectiveness and safety of the Covid-19 vaccine is another common reason that some individuals who are eligible to be vaccinated are declining their vaccine at this time.

Even though some first responders and other individuals in the community are declining the vaccine this time around, residents should not be left wondering, "What's the point in getting the vaccine?"

Aside from the main reason for all vaccinations - to teach your immune system how to recognize and fight the virus, largely eliminating risk of serious illness or death - it's also about looking out for the rest of society.

"We would echo what the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has on their website," Levitt said. "Getting vaccinated against Covid-19 will be one of the best ways to protect yourself and everyone around you. The more people who get vaccinated against Covid-19, the better it is for everyone. More people vaccinated means that there will be less disease in our communities. Getting vaccinated against Covid-19 is one of the most important steps to protect yourself and your community. By stopping the spread of Covid-19, we can keep businesses, schools, and other venues open. Stopping the spread of Covid-19 gets us closer to the end of the pandemic."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all Covid-19 vaccinations currently available in the U.S. have been shown to be highly effective at preventing Covid. And, because they don't contain the live coronavirus, the vaccine cannot make a person sick with Covid. Of course, there can be side effects. The CDC says vaccination side effects are normal signs that the body is building protection. The most common side effects are pain and swelling in the arm where a person received the shot. In addition, a person may have fever, chills, tiredness, and headache. These should go away in a few days.

In the meantime, Levitt said, "since we are in the 'in between' of some of the population being vaccinated and some not, public health encourages everyone to continue using face coverings, social distancing and washing their hands."

According to the state's Covid vaccination timeline announcement on Feb. 24, the public can expect to move into a new phase of individuals eligible for the vaccine sometime in April or May. The governor's plan predicts that the vaccine will be available to the general public by summer of 2021.

Pine Knot News editor Jana Peterson contributed to this story.


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