Delta variant of virus leading to sharp uptick in local cases

WINSTON COUNTY - They have practiced medicine locally for decades and are trusted by people of all ages.  Together, they have a simple message for local residents:  Get Vaccinated.
Dr. Jerry Harrison and Dr. Ramesh Reddy - who both have long-standing medical practices in Haleyville - are once again seeing Lakeland Community Hospital in Haleyville fill up with COVID-19 patients.  
“We are seeing a pretty big uptick,”  Harrison said.  “Every state is having an uptick.  Alabama, unfortunately, is probably having a bigger uptick than most other states.”
“There are days when half of our inpatients on Med-Surg are either COVID positive or persons under investigation for the virus. Emotionally and physically, it is exhausting for our staff. Not only are they providing emotional support to the patient and their families,  they are wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) for 12 hours. That is why we are now asking for the community's help by getting vaccinated,”  Lakeland CEO Ashley Pool said.
Statewide, cases of COVID also continue to rise.  Centers for Disease Control data show that Alabama’s daily average of cases has increased 89 percent in the last two weeks, with hospitalizations rising 154 percent statewide.
“Our hospital can’t take any more patients right now,”  Harrison said, adding that hospitals all around the area are in the same situation as Lakeland, filled with COVID-19 patients and no room for more.
The Delta variant of the COVID virus is behind the rise in cases not just locally, but nationwide, Harrison and Reddy both said. According to the doctors, Delta is more contagious than other COVID variants that have come through Winston County.  Harrison noted that with the new variant, it only takes two minutes of exposure to get the virus, predominantly for those who have not been vaccinated.  Under the variants that were circulating last year, it took 10 minutes of exposure.
“It’s much more contagious,”  Harrison said.
In a meeting Harrison attended recently with the leading epidemiologist in the state, Harrison learned that 99.2 percent of persons who had died from COVID-19 in Alabama in the past 100 days were unvaccinated.  When it comes to hospitalizations, 97 percent of those requiring a hospital stay have not been vaccinated.  
According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, Winston County has the lowest rate of vaccinations in all of Northwest Alabama.  Only 25.6 percent of the population 12 and over who are eligible for shots have been fully vaccinated, while 32 percent have received one dose of the vaccine.  In Marion County, 26.7 percent of the eligible population are fully vaccinated, with 32.6 percent receiving one dose.  
“When your rate is this low, it does not reflect a good understanding of the disease,”  Harrison said.
Another aspect of the pandemic that many in the public may not understand is the decades of work that led to the COVID vaccines being created so quickly.
“This virus was sequenced very quickly because the techniques for sequencing viruses has progressed imminently since the early 2000s.  When they identified the virus, they sequenced it around January 8, 2020.   Within days, President Donald Trump authorized a lot of money to be used to detect the virus.  Because they had been studying coronaviruses for 20 years, they very quickly within a few days had some possible mechanisms to develop vaccines,” Harrison said.
Harrison also said that when it came to the vaccine trial studies, which took place before the vaccines received emergency-use authorization from the FDA, were large, even larger than annual studies for the flu vaccine.
“The COVID vaccine had a gigantic number of people and they studied it for many more months,” Harrison said.
Harrison stated that when people claim  the vaccine was not studied long enough, they need to look at the number of people who were studied, not just  the number of days the vaccines were studied.
“People are just looking at the number of days.  The best way to look at it is the number of days times the number of people,”  Harrison said.
Harrison and Reddy both say they have heard lots of excuses from people as to why they are not getting the vaccine.  They went over some of the more common excuses they have heard with the Alabamian, one by one, to explain why they are not true.  The following are some of the excuses discussed, followed by why the reasoning behind them is false:

EXCUSE:  We don’t know what the long-term side effects of the vaccine are.
“When people my age were forced to take the polio vaccine, did we know what was going to happen when we took that?  No, we didn’t, but what happened?  We basically eradicated polio from the United States,”  Harrison said.
The first polio vaccine became available in the United States in 1955 and, thanks to widespread use of the vaccine, the United States has been polio-free since 1979.
“I don’t want (the federal government) to have to mandate this vaccine,” Harrison said about COVID vaccines.   “I want people to be smart enough to get it.  Don’t listen to all these conspiracy theories.  If you look at the conspiracy theories from a rational, scientific point of view, they are just malarkey.
“We didn’t know the long-term side effects of the smallpox vaccine.  It is eradicated, essentially, from the face of the Earth.  That is a long-term side effect of vaccination,”  Harrison said.

EXCUSE:  The COVID vaccine will cause infertility.

“Where do they come up with that?  I don’t believe there is any scientific discourse about that,”  Harrison said about the belief by some that the COVID vaccine will cause infertility.  Harrison did mention that blood clots have occurred in a very small number of women who received the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine.  
“Tell the women not to get that one if they are worried because the other two (Pfizer and Moderna) don’t have that ingredient, and tell the men it doesn’t matter which one they get,”  Harrison said.

EXCUSE:  I’ve already had COVID.  I’m fine and don’t need the vaccine now.  

“I’ve had COVID,”  Harrison countered.  “The day the vaccine became available to people in my age group, I got it.”
Harrison described what it was like trying to breathe with COVID.
“Sitting at home the day after I got my (positive) test, I was watching my oxygen, checking my temperature every 15 minutes.  I couldn’t tell I was running a temperature, but I saw it go from 98 to 102.  I was watching my oxygen go from 97 to below 90.  I was struggling to breathe.  I was very scared.  The biggest fear a human can have is when they have air hunger, when they can’t get enough oxygen.  That is what COVID will do to you,”  Harrison said.

EXCUSE:  I’m young.  I’m healthy.  I won’t get sick if I get COVID:  

“I don’t care about you,”  Harrison said.  “I care about your grandparents and the other people you see.  Yes, you will get over it...probably.  Unless you are one of the unlucky ones who doesn’t do well with it.”
“We are seeing more and more younger people being hospitalized with COVID,”  Reddy said.  “The youngest one we have in this hospital with it is 28.”
“The reason we are seeing this is because the older people got vaccinated.  You are taking them out of the equation because so few people who got vaccinated get the disease. The ones who are getting it are the people who said, ‘I’m not getting the vaccine,’” Harrison said.

EXCUSE:  It doesn’t have full FDA approval.  I’m going to wait until it is fully approved because obviously there is a reason why they are not approving it.  

“Did you know that some of the medications that are approved by the FDA are used by physicians for what we call “off-label” indications?  They are not approved for what you are taking them for,” Harrison said.
“Have you ever taken an antibiotic for a cold?  It doesn’t work and it’s not indicated for that, so it is being used without FDA approval.  If you are going to take other medications that may have side effects that don’t have
that approval, why won’t you consider using this?”  Harrison said.

EXCUSE:  It will make you magnetic.  

“That just reflects an absolute lack of understanding of the physical state of magnetism.  You cannot become magnetic,”  Harrison said.

Less than 1/10 of 1 percent of those who are fully vaccinated are  experiencing what is called “breakthrough” cases of COVID.  Thankfully, in the vast majority of these cases, the virus is not as severe and is not leading to hospitalization.  One thing is true about so-called breakthrough COVID, however.  It is contagious.
“People who are vaccinated, their antibiodies are in the blood, not in the nasal passages.  They still have a viral load in their nasal passages and can spread it to others,”  Reddy said.  “That’s the reason the CDC is asking for fully vaccinated people to wear masks indoors again.”
“You are not wearing a mask to protect you.  You are wearing it to try to protect others,”  Harrison said.  
Both Harrison and Reddy are having conversations with their patients who have been reluctant or absolutely refused to get vaccinated, trying their best to persuade them to get the shot.  Harrison noted that some of his conversations with patients have been contentious.
“When I say, are you vaccinated and they say no, I say why?  I want to get out of them which falsehood they are using to justify not getting it.  I go into the polio vaccine or ask if they work outside.  If you work outside and step on a nail, are you going to get a tetanus shot?  If they say yes, I tell them that scientists came up with that vaccine, too.”  Harrison said.
“Four months ago, I probably  would have said it’s your choice.  But now, with the Delta variant, it is important to get it because 97 percent of the people being admitted to the hospital are unvaccinated.  It’s important for you and your family to get vaccinated and be safe,”  Reddy said.
“We, the medical staff at  Lakeland Community Hospital, highly encourage you to get vaccinated,”  Harrison said.

COVID-19 vaccines available at hospital this week

Lakeland will be holding two COVID-19 vaccination clinics this week.  The first is today, Wednesday, Aug. 11, from 12-7 p.m. and the second will be Friday, Aug. 13, from 8 a.m. until noon.  Both clinics will take place in the conference room at the hospital.  The Pfizer vaccine - which is approved for persons 12 and older in a two-dose regimen - will be available.  No appointment is necessary, and there is no charge for the shot.
Morgan Miller, who works in admitting at Lakeland, has been amazed at where people have traveled from to come to Lakeland for a COVID-19 vaccine.
“When Lakeland started offering the COVID-19 vaccine my family and I got vaccinated.  The turn out I watched in Haleyville when (vaccination opportunities were) opened to the public was absolutely incredible!  
“Working at Lakeland, part of my job is answering the telephone.  Every day, we receive many calls regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.  We get many local calls, some from other towns also.  I never imagined we would get calls from other states asking when we will have the open clinics so they can come to Haleyville to get the vaccine.  I've been blessed to receive these calls from people from Mississippi, Tennessee and even Florida who have heard about our clinics and have family here.  They are willing to travel to the small town of Haleyville, Alabama to get vaccinated,”  Miller said.
Miller has heard nothing but praise for Lakeland’s staff when it comes to the vaccine clinics.
“People always say how thankful they are for Lakeland and how awesome it is that Lakeland is making not only the town but other states better prepared against COVID.  Lakeland has made a huge impact offering COVID-19 vaccines,”  Miller said.
Amber Medley, director  of Med-Surg and ICU at Lakeland, is  pleading with residents who have held out on getting the shot to get vaccinated.
“As a nurse, I beg everyone to get vaccinated so we may go back to somewhat of a normal life and stop losing precious lives to a virus that knows no limitations. The healthcare teams are exhausted, yet we have no choice but to keep fighting. We cannot allow this virus to win by affecting more people.  Please get vaccinated so we will win this fight by ending it,”  Medley said.

See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.
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