Pennsylvania and New Jersey residents are showing up for their first coronavirus shots at a slightly increased pace, with the average number of first doses of the vaccine given out each day across the states climbing modestly.
After weeks of declining vaccination rates, the uptick in first-dose shots mirrors a slight national increase — though overall, the number of Americans showing up for their first shots remains far lower than in the spring. Having dropped steadily over the spring and summer, hitting a low in early July, Pennsylvania’s pace has picked up over the last two weeks. In New Jersey, the increase has come over the past week, after holding relatively steady earlier in July.
With the delta variant of the virus causing outbreaks in other states and public health officials in every corner of the nation urging Americans to get vaccinated, the national increase could be in response to fear of the variant — as health officials stress that enough inoculations could stem its spread — and some of those public health efforts.
In Pennsylvania, the number of daily new COVID-19 cases has been rising over the last few weeks, but the state has not experienced the high level of spread fueling outbreaks in states such as Louisiana and Missouri.
“Some Pennsylvanians ... may be more motivated to get the vaccine with the number of COVID-19 cases going up again and the highly transmissible delta variant spreading across the country,” said Pennsylvania Department of Health spokesperson Mark O’Neill.
At a recent clinic run by Jaisohn Medical Center, which has vaccinated Asian, Black, and Latino residents in Northeast Philadelphia and the suburbs, center president George Choe spoke to a man waiting for his shot, he recalled.
“Why are you waiting this long?” he said he asked a group of people. Most replied they’d been busy and hadn’t seen a strong need to get it. “But then one guy finally told me. He said a few weeks ago, his wife died because of COVID. So that pushed them.”
The modest rise in first-dose vaccinations also comes amid a steady blitz of efforts by volunteers, public health officials, and community advocates on person-by-person, neighborhood-by-neighborhood outreach — trying to combat misinformation to get vaccination rates moving again in what’s become a slow, individualized process.
State health officials hope the increase might be a sign that their outreach efforts, along with those of independent organizations and doctors, are making a difference, O’Neill said.
There’s also been a renewed push to vaccinate teenagers before the school year starts. Since it takes five weeks to become fully vaccinated, public health officials are urging young people to get their shots now.
“If we get our young people vaccinated, we’ll be in a better place,” Chester City Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland said in a recent interview. The city’s vaccination rate, around 30%, is much lower than officials expected, and lagging uptake among young people is one of the reasons. He, too, feels the urgency brought by the delta variant.
“But now you have this different strain coming along, and if they’re not vaccinated, they’re very susceptible to the new strain.”
On average, Pennsylvania was seeing 6,467 first doses a day as of Friday, current state data show. That’s up from a low of 4,474 partial vaccinations on July 8, and it brings the state’s rate to about where it was this time last month.
Counting both first and second doses — not just unvaccinated people deciding to start their shots, but also those returning to complete the vaccination — the state’s seven-day average is 11,200 vaccinations per day.
Still, both the Pennsylvania and U.S. numbers are far lower than they were at the height of vaccinations, which peaked in April. More than 75,000 first shots were given in one day at Pennsylvania’s peak.
And New Jersey’s rate is not yet back up to its June level, though the seven-day average number of first doses administered rose from less than 8,000 a day to 9,300 by the end of Monday.
Nationwide, 57% of the population has at least one dose. Pennsylvania and New Jersey both have 65% of their populations vaccinated, according to the CDC.
“If you haven’t been vaccinated yet,” said O’Neill of the Pennsylvania health department, “there is no better time than now to do so.”