Cases and deaths remain high, yet schools and businesses are reopening. Two experts give scientific perspectives on what COVID’s next year may bring.
Savannah Morning News
COVID-19 vaccinations in Georgia are free, widely available and convenient for many, with free transportation available to mass vaccination sites in Chatham County. But while older Georgians flocked to vaccine appointments, their younger counterparts are less eager.
“You’d like for more people be taking it,” said Dr. Lawton Davis, director of the Coastal Georgia Public Health District. “We’ve got plenty of vaccine, we’ve got plenty of availability. But outside of the elderly population, we’ve not had tremendous participation.”
More: Chatham County COVID-19 vaccine tracker: 23% people fully vaccinated
In Chatham County, more than 75% of those over 65 have received the vaccine. That percentage dips lower in each younger age group. For those 55-64 it’s 37.2%; for 45-54 it’s 25.9; for 35-44 it’s 21.8. Women are more likely to get the shot than are men.
Nearly a month after all Georgians age 16 or over became eligible to receive the COVID vaccine, about 22% of Chatham County residents are fully vaccinated, according to the state’s vaccine dashboard. About 25% have received at least one dose, but that number has only inched up by three points over the last month of greatly expanded eligibility and availability.
More: If you’re 16 or older in Georgia and you want a COVID vaccine, you can get one. Here’s how.
Statewide, about the same percent are fully vaccinated, at 22%, but the number receiving at least one dose is higher at 33%.
Indicators of the coronavirus’ presence and spread in the community are far below the peaks seen in January but continue at a plateau higher than health officials want to see.
Chatham’s community transmission index is one such measure. It reflects the number of newly confirmed cases in the last 14 days per 100,000 residents and includes positive cases from PCR and antigen tests. It remains above 140. Anything above 100 is considered “high.”
“That indicates that there is still ongoing community transmission,” Davis said.
COVID vaccines plentiful in Chatham: ‘We just need people who are willing to take it’
Hospital admissions for COVID have similarly decreased from post holiday peaks but have stalled on a plateau of about 20 admissions total for the county’s three hospitals.
“I think it’s reasonable to attribute the decrease in hospitalizations to the fairly high vaccination rate in the elderly population, because all along we’ve known that the older people were more likely to have a poor outcome and wind up in hospital,” Davis said. “And so I applaud the senior population for their willingness to be vaccinated. I think that’s great. But the fact that we’re not continuing to see tremendous participation by the younger folks could in fact be one reason we have seen a little increase in the percentage of positivity and failure of the community index and seven day rolling average to continue its downward trend.”
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Memorial Health’s Dr. Stephen Thacker said that national and state data shows a notable decline in the number of hospitalizations for those 65 and older and to a lesser extent, those 50-64 years of age relative to the those of younger age.
“It does not necessarily appear the rate of young people being hospitalized has significantly changed in relation to prior experience with surges and plateaus,” said Thacker, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and associate chief medical officer. “I look at this as further evidence of the benefit of vaccination, given our best vaccine uptake has been in those 65 and older with notably less vaccination in those under 50. Vaccination uptake is highest in the 65 and older population and they are reaping the rewards with markedly less of them being hospitalized.”
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Davis warned against complacency even among those who are vaccinated.
“And I think that if somebody is fully vaccinated, they’re pretty well protected. You know, it’s not bulletproof, but they’re pretty well protected,” he said. “And as long as they’re around trusted associates who are also fully vaccinated, they can feel pretty comfortable in not wearing a mask if they’re around those people. But if you’re going to be out in the community, or in places where people are gathering, particularly indoors, as we’ve said all along, I think you still need to be careful.”
Mary Landers is the environment and health reporter at the Savannah Morning News. Contact her at 912-655-8295. Twitter: @MaryLandersSMN