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OPINION

Vaccine resistance keeps Nash in danger

Posted on January 10, 2022

OpinionColumnsCOVID-19

kripley@springhopeenterprise.com

Ken Ripley

Ken Ripley

Nash County officials described the current wave of pandemic cases as “dire” at last week’s county commissioners meeting, and health care workers express even stronger descriptions of what’s happening around us.

The more contagious omicron variant on top of the still deadly delta variant of COVID-19 has caused weekly case counts to spike alarmingly in Nash County.

After what seemed like a long lull in cases, the numbers began to go up in December as the holidays brought people together. An already high number of cases, 373, was reported between Dec. 21-27, only to explode to 1,425 cases between Dec. 28 and Jan. 4, when commissioners were informed.

Overall, since the pandemic began, Nash County has seen 17,739 cases with 242 deaths, the county health department reported. The breakdown of new cases spans all age groups, including children, with the biggest jump affecting adults between ages 30-39.

Nash UNC Health Care reported on Jan. 4 that 34 patients were being treated for COVID-19, but the emergency room was also full of COVID patients as well. This is on top of other people seeking care with different life-threatening problems who may not get as much help as they need because the pandemic is straining hospital resources.

The health care folks I talk to are deeply concerned about this rise in cases and express open frustration that our community isn’t taking this increased danger more seriously. They say they see too many people not wearing masks or socially distancing in places like the grocery store or restaurants at the same time we’re being asked to pray for people we know who are on ventilators.

The number I find jarring is that, statewide, 83% of COVID hospitalizations involve unvaccinated patients, and 88% of the patients requiring intensive care are unvaccinated. People who have gotten their shots may still get sick from one of the mutating variants, but the shots have at least protected them from the severity of the illness and definitely kept them from being among the more than 839,000 deaths in the United States.

Another important statistic The Enterprise reported is that even after a year of availability, only 59% of eligible Nash County residents, 55,505 people, has been vaccinated with at least one dose. The best protection, however, requires both initial doses plus a booster shot.

That’s a lot of people all around us who, for one excuse or another, haven’t responded to all the pleas to get the free vaccination necessary to protect themselves and the community.

People spent the first year of the pandemic praying for a vaccine to stop the spread of the disease and allow us to return to normal, but when the scientists delivered on their promise, millions of people have spurned it.

Some conservative media figures have politicized opposition to the shot, making rejecting it a statement of some kind of odd political “freedom,” while others have spread disinformation and outright lies about the vaccine, scaring people not to get it. Republicans have actively fought state or federal mandates to get the vaccination and are counting on the Supreme Court to block them as well.

What’s getting lost in all this drama is that the people who haven’t gotten the shot are the biggest victims of the virus’ latest surge. With 41% of Nash County residents still unvaccinated, that’s a whole lot of sickness and death left to spread.

And it isn’t necessary. Available shots are plentiful. Nash County even has a COVID-19 Hotline, 252-462-2079, to answer questions and help residents find a vaccination location. All kinds of other resources are offered online.

Until more Nash County residents get their shots, the longer this pandemic will disrupt all our lives. And the longer the virus is able to spread and circulate, the more likely future variants will mutate and possibly overcome the vaccines we now have. That’s why it’s critical to get as many people vaccinated as possible now.

The nation, and North Carolina, is long past the point of tolerating and just shaming people who refuse to get vaccinated. What should have been a no-brainer is being stalled by people exhibiting no brains. Public health, not just individual health, is threatened at a time when victory should be in sight.

Mandates with teeth work. Companies and organizations that have imposed them have seen their vaccination rates rise dramatically, well past the threshold of “herd immunity.” If the voluntary vaccination rate doesn’t sharply increase soon, authorities should consider much stronger measures.

Tired of the pandemic? Scared of getting sick or dying? Then get the shot, and insist that others you know and care about get the shot as well. It’s the smartest and most socially helpful decision you can make.

Ken Ripley, a Spring Hope resident, is The Enterprise’s editor and publisher emeritus.

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