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Herd immunity sought

AHOSKIE – Plenty of people still have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. That’s why local healthcare providers are working to share information and address concerns about the vaccine.

Representatives from Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center (RCCHC), Vidant Roanoke-Chowan Hospital, and Albemarle Regional Health Services (ARHS) all spoke during a virtual vaccine education panel held via Zoom on May 13.

The panelists answered questions from the public, with topics ranging from the importance of getting vaccinated to how people can combat vaccine hesitancy.

Amy Underhill, the ARHS Health Education Director, reported that over 4,000 people have been fully vaccinated so far in Hertford County as of early May. Across ARHS’s eight county region, almost 50 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.

But those numbers still need to increase in order to reach herd immunity in the local community.

“The more the virus spreads, the more it can mutate,” explained RCCHC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Claudia Richardson. “We risk that one of those mutations will not be covered by the vaccine. That’s why herd immunity is so important for each and every one of us.”

Dr. Richardson also explained that there are some people who aren’t able to take the vaccine, such as individuals who have received organ transplants or those who are immunosuppressed. Community vaccination helps protect those people as well.

“If you’re considering not being vaccinated, think about your family members, your friends, who are immunosuppressed as you make your choice,” she said.

Earl Phillips, the Administrator of Operations for Vidant Roanoke-Chowan Hospital, addressed concerns he’s heard from people who aren’t sure yet about getting the vaccine. Some people have told him they’ve already had COVID-19, so they don’t think they need to get the shot. But Phillips emphasized that people can get infected with the disease more than once.

“There’s still a possibility that you can get it, but the chances have been reduced greatly by getting the vaccine,” he explained, noting that the vaccine is up to 95 percent effective.

The panelists also discussed the importance of sharing accurate information about the COVID-19 vaccines on social media platforms. Dr. Richardson encouraged people to address concerns with factual information.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) has information about vaccines and answers to frequently asked questions on their website.

Underhill explained some of the common short-term side effects people can have after receiving their shot, including soreness, fatigue, headache, and fever.

For people who are still trying to decide whether or not to take the vaccine, Dr. Richardson urged them to consider the serious side effects that can come with a COVID-19 infection, including death. She also noted that the long-term consequences of COVID-19 infections are still unknown, even if a person has had a mild or asymptomatic case.

The panel also discussed topics such as future availability of the vaccine for teens and children, the mental toll the pandemic has had on everyone over the past year, and continued mask wearing.

“Until there is herd immunity, we absolutely recommend that you wear a mask if you go out,” Dr. Richardson said in response to a question.

The hour-long panel discussion wrapped up with reminders about how people can get their COVID-19 vaccination.

ARHS is offering both the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, and people can schedule their appointment by calling local ARHS offices in Ahoskie (252-862-4054), Gatesville (252-357-1380), or Windsor (252-794-5322).

Along with offering the Moderna vaccine, RCCHC is also continuing to offer COVID-19 testing for those who believe they have been exposed to the virus or are experiencing symptoms.

A video recording of the vaccine education panel is available at RCCHC’s Facebook page.