Panel addresses vaccine hesitancy in CSRA

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) — It has been 10 months since the COVID-19 vaccine arrived in the CSRA. But, vaccination rates remain low. As of Wednesday, 43 percent of eligible Richmond County residents received one dose, while 39 percent are fully vaccinated.

“As a greater number of individuals get the vaccine, more individuals will have protection and will diminish the infection rate in the community,” Dr. Jose Vasquez, an infectious diseases physician at Augusta University Health, explains. “That’s one of the reasons we’re trying to get to a high number of vaccinated people. The fewer open targets that are available in the community, the lower the rates of COVID.”

There are still many open targets in the Augusta area. This is why Augusta University and Peach State Health Plan hosted a panel of doctors, researchers as well as religious and community leaders Wednesday. They hope to reassure the unvaccinated that getting their shot will protect themselves and others.

“A lot of people are concerned because they feel they [COVID-19 vaccines] were rushed,” Dr. Kim Michelle Thompson, a family medicine physician at Augusta University Health, says. “There were no steps that were skipped. The research on these vaccines has been going on for over 33 years. There were no shortcuts. These have been some of the best tested and researched vaccines.”

“COVID has filled our hospitals up,” Henry Holt III, a chaplain at Augusta University Health, explains. “It has overwhelmed the staff. There are only so many resources we have available to our community.”

This lack of resources is taking a toll and creating, what Vasquez calls “unintended consequences of COVID.”

“The suicide, depression, drug overdoses and drug abuses have become serious,” he says. “We’re starting to lose individuals with cancer because they can’t be seen in the hospital on time. Those are all things that we forget about because our hospitals are loaded with COVID.”

If vaccination rates increase, this group is hopeful.

“Once we drop the open targets and become closed targets for the virus, then we’ll start dropping the rates dramatically,” Vasquez says.

“This is the best protection we have against any kind of virus,” Thompson adds.

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