Overcoming vaccine hesitation is key to overcoming COVID-19 |
ATLANTA – Georgia and other states with low COVID-19 vaccination rates are in a race against time with variants of the rapidly replicating virus, a faculty member at the Morehouse School of Medicine said Thursday.
The various coronavirus vaccines now available are effective against the Delta variant, which is now responsible for most new infections. But other variations could soon arise unless more residents of states with low immunization rates are vaccinated, warned Dr Michelle Nichols, associate dean of family medicine at Morehouse, at a panel sponsored by the school and the Peach State Health Plan.
“These variations are smart. They are dangerous, ”she said. “There comes a time when the variations will overtake us. “
Morehouse faculty members, heads of state agencies, representatives from the Peach State Health Plan, and educational, religious and nonprofit leaders spent an hour discussing what can be done to overcome the reluctance to vaccinate in Georgia.
As of Thursday, COVID-19 had hospitalized 914,984 Georgians, while the virus had resulted in 21,593 confirmed or probable deaths. The state’s vaccination rate of 38% is lower than the national average.
Nichols said a key factor as to why so many Georgians are reluctant to get the shot is the amount of misinformation being disseminated about the shots. She said COVID-19 vaccinations would not affect a woman’s fertility, alter a person’s DNA, or cause a person to contract the virus.
Dr Kathleen Toomey, Georgia Department of Public Health commissioner, said another argument against the vaccine is that it will not protect the recipient from contracting the virus.
“You can still get an infection,” she said. “But you’re less likely to get seriously ill or die. … Nothing is more dangerous than a serious case of COVID.
Wade Rakes, president and CEO of the Peach State Health Plan, said events such as Thursday’s roundtable are important in raising awareness of the safety and effectiveness of different vaccines.
“When people are informed, they choose to join the group of people who are vaccinated,” he said. “This will be the means for us to achieve the objective of [a] 70% [vaccination rate]. “
But the most important way to raise awareness of the need to get vaccinated is to let community members know that those who remain unvaccinated know and trust, said Marvin Laster, CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Albany. .
“You need the influencers, your doctor, your minister, your hairdresser,” he said.
“You have to meet people where they are,” added Gail Fowler, CEO and superintendent of Cirrus Academy, a charter school in Macon.
With Georgians aged 60 and older most likely to have received COVID vaccines, Fowler said a large group to focus the message on are now students aged 12 and older, the latest to be eligible for the vaccinations.
Dr Lilly Immergluck, a pediatrician and professor of immunology at Morehouse, said the group of Americans eligible for the vaccine least likely to be vaccinated were between 18 and 29 years old. Yet with the Delta variant now widespread, the virus is spreading to this group more frequently than during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We need to send a message to these young people that they can relate to,” said Harry Douglas, a former Atlanta Falcons catcher who co-founded a non-profit organization serving underprivileged youth and their families. “Delivery is very important to this process.