Southwest VA kid COVID vaccination rates appear higher than Northeast TN’s so far

Local Coronavirus Coverage

Henry Bomgardner, 8, winces as he gets his first Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine dose in Johnson City, Tenn. Nov. 10.

Virginia’s statewide rate 3X that of Tennessee

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – More than 3,000 children in the 5 to 11 age range have gotten a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in the News Channel 11 viewing area, a data review shows.

The data also suggest that so far, Southwest Virginia young kids have been vaccinated at a rate about 10% above their Northeast Tennessee peers, though full age-group statistics are available only for Southwest Virginia.

The gap between Virginia and Tennessee as a whole, meanwhile, is huge, with Virginia’s 16% more than triple the Tennessee rate.

Regionally, Washington County, Tenn. and Washington County, Va. (including Bristol) appear to have the highest percentages vaccinated in the age group, while some of the area’s rural counties still post quite low numbers.

Data from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) also show a large gap between the two states in the percentage vaccinated statewide. A total of 16% of Virginians ages 5 to 11 have gotten their first dose, while TDH reports a figure of only 5.1% in the Volunteer state.

Virginia, where school-based pediatric vaccine clinics are occurring, has vaccinated more than three times as much of its 5 to 11 year old population as neighboring Tennessee so far.

Virginia is conducting school-based clinics, while Tennessee is not.

The numbers so far in Southwest Virginia are far lower than Virginia’s as a whole, with just 5.8% of kids in the nine-county region having received a first jab as of Friday.

“I think those numbers are a little misleadingly low because some of our biggest school systems haven’t had their vaccine clinics yet or they’re not reflected in that data,” Breanne Forbes Hubbard, population health manager for the Mount Rogers Health District in Southwest Virginia, said a few days before Friday’s data came out.

The numbers did then increase, but not by as much as they did statewide.

Forbes Hubbard said while younger children rarely get very sick from COVID there are numerous reasons to get them vaccinated.

“The main thing we want to do is prevent disease transmission among these kids and in the community, but it also has a lot of practical impact on parents’ lives,” Forbes Hubbard told News Channel 11.

“They’re going to have to continue to stay home with a child and quarantine whereas if their child is fully vaccinated and is exposed to someone, as long as they don’t have any symptoms they carry on with their daily life.”

Breaking down the numbers

The regional total is 3,175, but so far those vaccinations have disproportionately occurred in three of the region’s counties — Washington and Sullivan in Tennessee and Washington (including the city of Bristol) in Virginia.

Comparative county percentages are available in Virginia using the VDH website, showing the percentage of the overall population in that age group that’s been vaccinated so far.

The Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) hasn’t yet begun to break the information down in that way by county, but the statewide percentage as of Friday was 5.1% — even lower than Southwest Virginia’s.

Washington County, Tenn. has 16% of the region’s total population, but its 910 kid vaccinations are almost 29% of the total.

Washington County, Va. (including Bristol) has just under 9% of the region’s population but its 474 vaccinations represent 15% of the total.

It easily leads the Southwest Virginia counties at 9.3% of its younger kids vaccinated. The next highest rate is in Smyth County, where 131 vaccinations represent 6.0% of the population.

The lowest Virginia percentage by far right now is in Lee County, whose 28 vaccinations represent just 1.6% of that eligible population.

Many of the counties are between 4 and 5%.

Washington, Scott and Russell counties saw sizeable jumps in their vaccination numbers between Wednesday and Friday. Forbes Hubbard and her counterpart in the Lenowisco/Cumberland Plateau districts, Allie Phillips, said several school clinics had occurred in the interim.

“On the 16th in Gate City we did vaccines for Yuma Elementary and Shoemaker Elementary,” Phillips said of the bump in Scott County. “We also went to Weber City and Hiltons Elementary on that same day.”

 Forbes Hubbard said school clinics in Washington County pushed numbers up there this week.

“Hopefully, numbers will continue to steadily increase now that more pediatricians and pharmacists are offering vaccine appointments, too,” Forbes Hubbard said.

Available data show lower rates in rural NE TN than rural SW VA

On the Tennessee side of the border, several counties with higher overall populations than their Southwest Virginia counterparts have lower raw numbers of vaccinated kids.

10-year-old Charlie Bomgardner gets his first COVID vaccine shot Nov. 10 in Johnson City, Tenn.

Hawkins County, Tenn., for instance, has a population of almost 57,000 and has vaccinated just 69 children in the age group. Tiny Dickenson County, Va., has only a quarter of Hawkins’s population but has vaccinated nearly as many 5 to 11-year-olds — 62.

Smyth County, Va. has just over 30,000 residents but has vaccinated 131 young kids. Greene County, Tenn. is more than twice the population, at more than 69,000, but has only vaccinated 123 kids.

If the ratios of children are similar, Greene County is probably somewhere around the 2.6% mark — below every Southwest Virginia county except Lee.

Buchanan County, Va. has Southwest Virginia’s second-lowest rate at 4.0%. But at 21,004 people it’s not much larger than Unicoi or Johnson counties in Tennessee (both a bit under 18,000) — and its 52 vaccinations are well ahead of Unicoi’s 36 and dwarf Johnson County’s 11.

Carter County actually appears to show the highest vaccination percentage outside of Washington and Sullivan for Northeast Tennessee. It’s almost the same size as Hawkins County but has 120 kid vaccinations, close to double Hawkins’s 69.

On the other hand, Carter is more than 40% bigger than Southwest Virginia’s Tazewell County, but Tazewell has 30 more vaccinations — 150. That still is just a 5.1% rate in Tazewell County for that age group.

The TDH “population metrics” page on its vaccination data web section has a 5- to 11 section for each county, but all so far still show 0.0% of that population vaccinated, suggesting the total population in those age groups hasn’t yet been plugged into the software.

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