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READING, Pa. – The head member of the Berks County COVID-19 leadership team told the Berks County commissioners the county needs almost 75,000 additional residents to receive the COVID vaccine before the county reaches the goal of having 70% of the population vaccinated.

In his weekly report Thursday, Brian Gottschall, director of the Berks County Department of Emergency Services, said he would begin focusing on vaccine data over his usual report on the state’s data on infection rates.

The state has announced it will lift all pandemic restrictions, with the exception of the mask mandate, beginning May 31. Gottschall point out that the statewide mask mandate won't be lifted until 70% of the population receives the vaccine.

To hit 70% in Berks County, 241,129 county residents will have to be fully vaccinated.

Right now, Gottschall said 30.2% (103,974) of the county’s eligible population is fully vaccinated, but that Berks could be at 48.3% if all people who received the first dose would return for the second dose.

That appears to be a growing problem in the effort to get people fully vaccinated.

“Unfortunately, what we are seeing at the national level is a trend that shows there are a lot of people getting the first dose and not coming back for second,” Gottschall said. “We’re still trying to get our arms around what that looks like in Pennsylvania and Berks County. We have a reasonable amount of vaccine available, but in reality, what we have is a smaller desire for the vaccine.”

Currently, 166,447 residents out of 344,460 total county residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

“We’ve only gotten to 165,000, and we need 75,000 more on top of that; we have a lot of work to do in Berks County,” Gottshall said. “We understand this is a personal decision. All we are asking is that people really go and seek out good information and not rely on social media posts or the uninformed opinion of their friends. Talk to people who are really knowledgeable to make the personal decision.”

Commissioner Kevin S. Barnhardt reported that the county’s Berks Cares Vaccine Center in Muhlenberg Township reported administering 90 doses of the vaccine on Monday and 110 on Tuesday. Data for Wednesday was not yet available.

The center, which is located at the North Reading Plaza along Route 222 in Muhlenberg Township, opened to the public on Monday.

In other news, Commissioner Christian Y. Leinbach announced he will be hosting a kick-off meeting (shortly after the commissioners meeting) for the Berks County Advisory Committee for the America 250 PA effort.

The committee is being formed for the county’s contribution to the United States semiquincentennial (250th Anniversary) in 2026.

“I want to promote that this as an opportunity for Berks County to play a role in this effort,” Leinbach said. “This is a broad group and we are seeking folks geographically (and) demographically across different racial backgrounds.”

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