Vaccination rates low in CSRA, experts concerned of continued hesitancy

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) — COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are the lowest they have been in months in the CSRA. However, health experts fear many people are still at risk of getting infected because they have not been vaccinated.

As of Monday, 23 percent of residents had been fully vaccinated in Richmond County, 27 percent were fully vaccinated in Columbia County, and nearly 29 percent were vaccinated in Burke County. Georgia and South Carolina are among the 11 least vaccinated states.

“Our vaccination numbers are below where they should be,” Dr. Phillip Coule, Augusta University Health’s Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, says. “They really are not where they need to be. Unfortunately, as we see the [case and hospitalization] numbers decline like this, people perceive that the threat is gone. The threat is not gone.”

“I’m still concerned about people who feel as though because they haven’t had significant complications from COVID-19 already, they somehow think they are not susceptible to it,” he adds.

These low numbers are why healthcare teams continue to push for clinics outside of hospital settings and in the community. Gold Cross EMS partnered with Augusta Regional Airport Monday for a clinic, offering patients first and second doses. It gave people, like Allison Jenkins, the opportunity to get vaccinated after months of hesitancy.

“I was a little hesitant, but I figured I don’t want to be sick and want to live as long as I can,” Jenkins says.

Coule says the next step in the inoculation process is to transition out of mass vaccination sites and move more vaccines into smaller settings so they can be worked “into the normal healthcare routine.”

“We now need to normalize vaccinations into the standard healthcare routine — getting vaccines into the doctor’s office so that on a routine visit, we can give them a vaccination,” Coule explains. “We need to get them into the pharmacy so when people pick up medications, they can take advantage of that and get vaccinated, like the flu shot.”

Reaching those who have yet to be vaccinated will not be easy in the coming months. But, healthcare experts and county leaders agree — it is necessary to safely reopen the community.

“We can open up quicker when we can get as many people vaccinated as possible,” Catherine McKnight, Augusta-Richmond County’s District 3 Commissioner, says.

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