East Alabama Medical Center and the mayors of Lee County made a plea last week for more people in the community to get their Covid-19 vaccines, as the vaccination rate in the area continues to lag well behind the national average and amid worries that the unvaccinated will be particularly vulnerable to the fast-spreading Delta variant currently coursing its way through the country.
The Delta variant, first identified in India, is set to soon become the dominant strain in the U.S., a troubling prospect for experts who worry how quickly the virus will spread in areas with low vaccination rates.
“The India variant — also known as the Delta variant — currently accounts for about 10 percent of new cases in the U.S., but has been detected in 46 states and is expected to become the dominant strain in a matter of weeks. It’s more contagious and causes more severe infections,” said Laura Grill, president and CEO of EAMC. “It appears the current Covid vaccines will be effective against this strain, but could be less effective as the virus continues to mutate. That’s why I said earlier that we’re in a race against Covid-19 because the more it mutates, the less effective the current vaccines will likely become. So, the quicker we can get people vaccinated, the more likely we are to be able to contain the virus.”
As of last week, only about 31 percent of Lee County residents were fully vaccinated, with 35 percent having at least one dose.
According to John Hopkins University of Medicine, just over 30 percent of Alabama’s population has been vaccinated, placing the state ahead of only Mississippi. The national average in states is nearly 47 percent, with Vermont leading the way with almost 60 percent of its population vaccinated.
“We’ve come a long way, but our fight against Covid-19 isn’t over yet,” said Auburn Mayor Ron Anders.
“Thank you to each community member who has taken personal responsibility to get vaccinated for the sake of their individual health and the health of those around them. While many have done their part, our county and state’s vaccination rate still isn’t where we need it to be to combat Covid-19 and its variants. We need all who can to help contain this virus.”
With residents packing restaurants and other venues, Grill is concerned that complacency has set in among the public, even though Lee County lags well behind the national average for vaccinations.
“I’m worried that we have a false sense of security right now,” she said. “We have to remember that 90,000 doses of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine means a maximum of 45,000 people were fully vaccinated, but that’s not the case either. Some people did not return for their second dose. Plus, the doses were spread among several counties, and some of the people vaccinated were from Georgia.
“It’s a race at this point. I know people are thinking ‘Covid hospitalizations are down, so why worry?’ Well, the majority of vaccinations — about 65 percent — went to people who are 65 or older, or who have high-risk medical conditions. It’s good that many of them understood the need to be vaccinated, but we still have people being hospitalized who have little-to-no underlying health issues. And most who have been hospitalized over the past three months had not been vaccinated.”
Vaccinations are available throughout the community at pharmacies and through EAMC. Locations include American Family Care at 1902 College St.; Auburn Pharmacy at 643 N. Dean Road; Auburn Urgent Care at 1650-A S. College St.; CVS Pharmacy on Opelika Road; Sam’s Club on Bent Creek Road; and at Walmart at 2047 E. University Drive. Those locations are offering either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, which required two doses.
While Covid hospitalizations are down, they are still occurring, as are deaths from the disease.
“Since Monday, March 1, we have had 19 additional deaths to residents with Covid-19. That’s 19 people who would likely still be with us if they had not contracted Covid-19, and it brings our total number of Covid-19 deaths to 230 since March 2020,” said Grill. “We cannot allow that to be the ‘new norm.’ As a community, state and nation, we must do better. We need people to get vaccinated before the virus mutates more and makes it more difficult for the vaccines to be effective.”