WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE 28/WYOU 22 EYEWITNESS NEWS) — Pennsylvania has gone from being among the slowest states in winter to administer the COVID vaccine to ranking in the top five this week for most overall doses given.
Wednesday, a top state health official visited northeastern Pennsylvania to discuss progress and ongoing efforts to get more people vaccinated. Pennsylvania’s acting physician general chose a Geisinger facility to deliver her message since Geisinger has been a leading mass vaccinator in the state.
She addressed with Eyewitness News an issue that’s concerning: vaccine hesitancy within the health community.
“So first of all I want to thank all of you who have already been vaccinated,” Dr. Denise Johnson said.
Using LIFE Geisinger in Wilkes-Barre as a backdrop, Pennsylvania Department of Health Acting Physician General Denise Johnson acknowledged the power of getting the COVID vaccine.
“You are protecting your community. You’re protecting those who are not able to be vaccinated yet,” Dr. Johnson said.
The only age group that cannot yet get the vaccine is children 11 and younger but, still, vaccine hesitancy remains an issue including among healthcare professionals.
“I know that in the nursing community it has been less and some other medical providers as well,” Dr. Johnson said.
“Well, you know, I mean it’s a hurdle,” Dr. Rick Martin said.
Dr. Rick Martin is Medical Director of LIFE Geisinger — the health system’s Living Independently For Elders program. While he hopes more health care professionals would trust in the science and efficacy of the vaccine and get the shot, he’s concerned what would happen if the shot were a job requirement.
“If health care concerns mandate the vaccine, will that drive more and more people away and even have more of an HR problem than sort of maintaining services,” Dr. Martin said.
Converting the vaccine hesitant to becoming vaccinated even in his own profession boils down to one word according to Dr. Martin.
“Education. That’s all we can do. Plead. Educate, you know, every opportunity. If we see certain populations that seem to be resistant as Dr. Johnson said, we’ll target those neighborhoods or those populations and try to educate those a little bit more,” Dr. Martin said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Johnson added that even though reaching herd immunity by July 4th won’t realistically happen, she emphasized that it’s not too late to get vaccinated and put the pandemic behind us.
The CDC says 60 percent of all Pennsylvania adults have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Pennsylvania also ranks in the top five states nationally for most COVID vaccine doses administered.