Oct. 15—Harford County officials say they have made strides in getting eligible residents vaccinated against COVID-19, but the county remains below the state average overall. In addition, the county is classified at the high transmission level by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 80% of Harford County residents 18 years old and older have received their first dose of vaccine, and around 63% of the total county population has been fully vaccinated.
According to state data, almost 85% of Marylanders 18 and over have had at least one dose of vaccine.
Since Oct. 10, Harford's cases per 100,000 people have trended above the state's average, according to state data. On Thursday, the county reported 21.36 cases per 100,000 compared to the state average of 16.81, according to state data.
According to the CDC, transmission levels are high in almost every Maryland county, including Harford. It takes more than 100 new cases per 100,000 to be classified as high transmission, according to the CDC.
Since school began, more than 500 Harford students have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Harford County Public Schools. And more than 1,100 students are either in quarantine or isolation after testing positive or showing symptoms of the virus, according to the district's dashboard.
Many school-age children are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine.
Harford County health officer David Bishai said the county has made advances in vaccinating its population — both in total number of people vaccinated and equitable distribution of the shots. He says the gap in vaccination rates between Black and white county residents has nearly disappeared.
As evidenced by the 80% of county residents 18 and over who have gotten their first doses of two-shot vaccines, Bishai said many have overcome their skepticism of the inoculation. But there are still those who remain unconvinced of the vaccine's safety and efficacy. Those convictions — that the vaccine is dangerous or ineffective — can be rooted in misinformation that circulates on social media, according to Bishai.
"I know there are individuals who are never ever going to get the vaccine. It's not a knowledge thing at this point, and we should not approach it as a way to supply information," he said.
While misinformation is still dissuading some from getting vaccinated, Bishai said doctors can appeal to their patients and vaccinated people can talk with their friends and families. Combating disinformation can be done through simple word-of-mouth. "Every conversation matters," he said.
Most infections of students, Bishai said, do not come directly from schools, which adhere to a masking policy. Through contact tracing, the health department has found that the majority of pediatric COVID cases have come from around schools — after-school get-togethers and other out-of-class socialization.
"In the schools, because of universal masking .... that's still one of the safest environments for a child," he said.
The next step Bishai sees coming is vaccination of children under 12. In preparation for vaccinating kids, he has been reaching out to pediatricians, who build bonds with patients and their families, and asking them to have frank conversations about getting kids vaccinated.
Pediatricians generally lose money administering vaccines — some do not even stock them, he said — so their recommendation is not motivated by money, nor are they in cahoots with vaccine manufacturers.
"You are getting an honest answer; they will lay it on the line," he said.