"During COVID-19, we know that your membership has been particularly adversely affected," said County Executive Matt Meyer during a Lunchtime Conversation with AARP Delaware. "During this time, many of them--too many of them--[have been] homebound now for a year."
In speaking with AARP Delaware's Communications Director Kim Wharton, Meyer said vaccine rollout is well underway and anyone who wants their shots will be able to get them soon.
"It's been such a challenging year for everyone, most especially the seniors and our most vulnerable populations," Meyer said. "Given what we know now, the increased risk of serious illness for those older and with specific underlying conditions, it's really important that we continue to be vigilant as more of our population gets vaccinated. So even if you've already been vaccinated, let's follow very closely to the state Division of Public Health and CDC guidance. We're not out of the woods yet."
Meyer was joined by New Castle County EMS Chief Mark Logemann, who said these opportunities to address the public directly are important to overall safety of the population, especially with how much disinformation is floating around on the internet.
"One thing I've learned throughout this entire past year is that communication with the public is extremely important," Logemann said. "There are so many sources for information out there on the internet and social media, and a lot of what you read is good, solid information--but there's a lot of misleading information out there."
When asked if the vaccination rollout, and the county's ability to reach vulnerable populations during that process, had gone as smoothly as he'd hoped, Meyer said:
"The simple answer is no. I think President Biden...would say no, and I think Governor [John] Carney would say no. We've been dealing with supply constraints, since day one, and that puts, certainly, the governor and the president in a very, very challenging place, and sometimes medical doctors," Meyer said. "When they have one dose, or a limited number of doses, and they have to choose between a 90-year-old, an 80-year-old with all these underlying health conditions, and a teacher or a principal who wants to open their school, those are not easy decisions."
There's hope for the situation, Meyer said, as the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines start to trickle out into the population, and he's working with Logemann to ensure first responders are getting vaccinated and then working alongside the DPH to host mass vaccinations to get it to more residents--at this point it's only a matter of supply.
"The supply and the decisions are being made first at the federal government, and then at the state government [level,]" Meyer said. "The simple answer is that, right now, there are many more people in group [Phase] 1B, then there is the state's ability to get this vaccine into people's arms. The state is working very hard with groups like New Castle County to increase that capacity, that ability, once the vaccine doses come."
Which is novel in itself.
"Nearly everyone who wants a vaccine will be able to schedule an appointment for a vaccine, but it's going to take a lot of work," Meyer said. "It's not just a matter of the vaccine getting produced and sent to Delaware, of course. It's saying, how do you vaccinate 200,000 300,000 people when the state--in my lifetime, in any of your lifetimes--has never really had to do anything like this before."
But while supply is a challenge, it's not the only concern. Variants of COVID-19 have popped up in the First State, and there's still quite a bit left to learn about them and treating them.
"I can tell you that certainly the variants are a concern," Logemann said. "There's very little known right now about whether the Pfizer or the Moderna or the Johnson & Johnson vaccines are going to be highly effective with variants. But the most important thing for us to do is prevent spread, period, whether it is a variant or not."
While there are some concerns about the unknowns of the vaccine, and some known side effects, Meyer said they've already shown how effective they can be.
"Everybody's on alert, it's a new technology, it's a new vaccine," he said. "I was weary as well, to be completely honest. I think anybody who's thinking critically says, 'Wait a minute, they developed this thing faster than ever before.' But as my grandma used to say when she made me dessert, 'The proof is in the pudding.' And it looks like, so far, the vaccine is performing extraordinarily well both in terms of...very, very limited side effects, and also just its effectiveness in keeping people out of the hospital, and keeping us all safe."