‘We still have work to do’: Herd immunity far off with a quarter of Kern’s population fully vaccinated against COVID-19

May 19, 2021 /

Since COVID-19 vaccines first became available to Kern County residents five months ago, only a quarter of Kern’s population has been fully vaccinated.

If Kern County is to reach herd immunity, there is still much work to be done, health officials say.

“With Kern County’s vaccination rate being at approximately 25%, we still have work to do,” Kern County Public Health spokeswoman Michelle Corson told Kern Sol News. “We encourage everyone 12 and older to get vaccinated as this is the quickest and safest way to protect our community from COVID-19.” 

Aside from the 25.9% of residents who are fully vaccinated, another 65,762 residents have received their first dose of the vaccine series. This means 46.24% of Kern’s 16 and older population — or roughly 34% of Kern’s total population — is either partially or fully vaccinated, according to Corson.

The California Department of Public Health estimates between 70% to 85% of people in the state would need to be vaccinated for herd immunity to happen. However, herd immunity in Kern County remains a challenge, as the demand of COVID-19 vaccines continued to decrease since the week of April 5, according to Corson.

According to reports from CalMatters, Kern County is tied in ranking in the 10th worst County in the state for reaching herd immunity. Other Central Valley counties with lower vaccination rates include Merced with 28% and Kings with 25% of the population vaccinated, according to a CalMatters analysis.

However, Kern is not alone. In 45 of the state’s 58 counties, less than half of the residents were vaccinated.

According to the CDC, immunity can result from either vaccination or prior infection. In Kern County, more than 109,000 people have been infected with the COVID-19 virus. Of these cases, 39,228 people have recovered.

If those who have recovered from the virus are immune and if those who are partially vaccinated become fully vaccinated, that means nearly 38 percent of Kern’s population would be immune from COVID-19.

However, previous infection does not necessarily prevent one from contracting the virus again. Having antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19 may provide protection from getting infected with the virus again, but even if it does, experts do not know how much protection the antibodies may provide or how long this protection may last, according to the CDC. Confirmed and suspected cases of reinfection have been reported, but remain rare, the CDC says.

Despite the decrease in demand for vaccines among Kern residents during the month of April, Corson said there is hope.

“Last week was the first week since we started to experience these decreases that we saw an increase in the number of first doses administered from the previous week,” Corson said. 

Last week was the first week children between the ages of 12 to 15 became eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Corson said, “We are optimistic that this trend will continue.”

To educate and provide vaccine information to Kern residents, the County has launched three contracted mobile vaccination sites; has partnered with the Kern County Latino Task Force and other trusted messengers to help with awareness; has engaged community members through door-to-door canvassing; and has created “Vaccine Information Booths” staffed with nurses in areas where Kern’s most vulnerable populations frequent to help answer vaccine questions, dispel vaccination myths, and help residents get signed up in MyTurn for a vaccine appointment.     

The County has also created a nurse vaccination hotline; launched an educational campaign in County and many incorporated city building lobbies; and is in the process of developing an educational campaign for parks throughout Kern County.  This campaign will include banners, yard signs and posters placed throughout parks.  

Currently, the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for 12 and older, while Moderna and J&J vaccines are approved for 18 and older. The Public Health COVID-19 vaccine nurse hotline is available from 7AM to 7PM, seven days a week. Call or text 661-677-4177 to ask your vaccine related questions.   

The Kern County Fairgrounds Mass Vaccination Clinic offers Pfizer vaccine from the comfort of your car. The clinic operates Wednesday through Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Appointments can be made at www.MyTurn.ca.gov but are not required.  Other vaccinating providers are available throughout the community and can be found on the Vaccinating Providers Map at https://phweb.kerncounty.com/Html5Viewer/index.html?viewer=COVID19Vaccination#

Elizabeth Sanchez

Elizabeth Sanchez is the program associate for South Kern Sol. She can be reached at elizabeth@southkernsol.org.