Demand for Vaccine Declines as Variants Rise in this County

Because these strains are considered more contagious than the "ordinary" coronavirus that set off the global pandemic in early 2020. about half of the variant cases are from the B.1.1.7 strain of COVID-19.

Closeup of a vaccine being drawn into a syringe.
Under current law, California requires children at both public and private schools and day cares to receive immunizations against 10 diseases.
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(TNS) - At least 50 cases of coronavirus linked to variant strains emerging around the world have surfaced in Fresno County , but the county's top doctor said he believes there are many more such infections that have not yet been detected through testing.

Dr. Rais Vohra , interim health officer for the Fresno County Department of Public Health , said Thursday that about half of the variant cases are from the B.1.1.7 strain of COVID-19, more commonly known as the U.K. variant since it was first identified last fall in the United Kingdom .

Another 20 cases involve two different strains that arose earlier this year in California and are together known as the West Coast variants. The remaining handful of cases involve either the P.1 strain of coronavirus, called the Brazilian variant, or the B.1.351 strain, better known as the South African variant.

"We really think the numbers are much higher, but we're not really able to test for them," Vohra said. "It's a new chapter in the pandemic that will require more attention ... to control the variants before they cause huge problems for us."

While Vohra said he's not yet aware of any variant cases that have landed patients in a hospital for treatment, he's concerned because these strains are considered more contagious than the "ordinary" coronavirus that set off the global pandemic in early 2020. So far, he added, research indicates that the variants are susceptible to the vaccines that have been developed in response to the pandemic.

Vaccine demand still lagging

The increase in the number of confirmed variant infections comes as demand for vaccine has tailed off dramatically in Fresno County over recent weeks.

For the first couple of months after the first vaccines received emergency-use authorization from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration in December, Fresno County was scrambling to secure enough doses from the state Department of Public Health to meet demand.

But as recently as March, the county health department was receiving, and administering through various health clinics and medical partners, as many as 40,000 doses of vaccine to residents and people who work in the county.

Those doses don't include those that some hospitals and retail pharmacies were receiving directly from the federal government.

Joe Prado , who is heading Fresno County's vaccination program as the health department's community health manager, said Thursday that his office expects to only order 6,000 doses for next week, as it draws down a stockpile of doses that have already been received and are being stored in freezers.

Through Wednesday, almost 615,000 individual vaccine shots have been given to residents in Fresno County , and almost 262,000 people are now considered "fully vaccinated," having received either both shots of the two-shot vaccines produced by Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna , or one shot of the single-dose Janssen/ Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The FDA had put the Johnson & Johnson vaccines on hold nationwide as it investigated a possible connection between the shots and very rare instances of dangerous blood clots among women after they received the vaccination. That hold was lifted late last week and vaccinations resumed.

To date, just over one out of every four Fresno County residents is fully vaccinated, well shy of the county's goal achieving at least 60% full protection by the end of the summer. Overall, less than 37% of the county's population has received at least one dose of vaccine.

Both the full-vaccination and one-dose figures lag behind the statewide average: 29.6% fully vaccinated, and 45.2% with at least one dose.

Thursday updates

Across the central San Joaquin Valley on Thursday, counties provided updates on coronavirus cases and fatalities. They include:

Fresno County : 23 new cases, 101,161 to date; three additional deaths, 1,666 to date.

Kings County : 11 new cases, 22,870 to date; no additional deaths, 246 to date.

Madera County : Seven new cases, 16,278 to date; no additional deaths, 240 to date.

Mariposa County : No new cases, 441 to date; no additional deaths, seven to date.

Merced County : 28 new cases, 31,557 to date; no additional deaths, 454 to date.

Tulare County : 39 new cases, but an adjustment to prior data resulted in a net reduction of 75 cases, bringing the total to date to 49,510; no additional deaths, 834 to date.

Since the first local cases of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic were identified in early March 2020 , there have been more than 221,800 confirmed cases among Valley residents. Of those cases, 3,447 deaths have been attributed to the novel coronavirus and the respiratory disease it causes.

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