DHEC: SC still far from relaxing COVID precautions – Index-Journal

As the weather warms up and more people get eager to return to public life, state health officials are worried not enough people are getting the COVID-19 vaccine while spread of the virus doesnt seem to be slowing.

Theres been a lull in vaccination rates throughout the country, said Assistant South Carolina Epidemiologist Dr. Jane Kelly, and while other states have seen a rise in COVID case numbers, South Carolinas cases have seemingly plateaued. While the state might have avoided a post-Easter case surge that health officials worried about, Kelly said another surge might still come since case numbers arent dropping significantly.

Spring is here, Summer is approaching, people are getting together, she said. Were far from being able to relax public health recommendations.

Kelly urged people to get vaccinated and to share their experiences with others to promote vaccination. Even people who have had COVID should get vaccinated, as she said studies have shown COVID vaccines produce more antibodies than the natural immunity developed by being sick.

Vaccination will help control the spread of COVID-19, but Kelly said the virus cant be eliminated such as polio because of the way coronaviruses transmit. She also said its likely COVID-19 will become endemic an ever-present virus not unlike the common cold. Even in the 155 cases statewide of vaccinated people still contracting COVID-19, theyve gone either asymptomatic or with mild symptoms, Kelly said.

The more we delay, the more opportunity there is for new variants to develop, she said.

Many people are still hesitant to get vaccinated, and Kelly said doubts crop up for a variety of reasons. Sometimes people need more information about the vaccines, and she said DHEC is working to get accurate information out through multiple community sources. In other cases, she said some people have been hesitant because they cant afford to take a day off from work to recover from the side effects, which can include flu-like symptoms, aches and fatigue.

Kelly recently heard about a social media claim that the vaccine contained aborted fetal DNA, which she said is completely false. She said faith-based communities have helped in fighting misinformation, and even suggested a podcast by the National Association of Evangelicals, available online at nae.net/collinspodcast, that features Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.

In some ways, the regional Community Assessment Review and Equity Panels have helped shape the future of public health in South Carolina, Kelly said. These are groups of regional health officials and community stakeholders that are working to identify gaps in vaccine utilization in their region and offer recommendations on how to provide for underserved communities.

This gives us the opportunity to draw together a diverse range of partners, Kelly said.

The Upstate CARE Panel met Wednesday morning and discussed the data they need to make informed recommendations for getting vaccines to underserved populations. They asked DHEC officials if they could have vaccination rates for each ZIP code in the Upstate, broken down by demographics, along with a map of vaccine clinics and events, so they can see where services are already being provided.

Chairperson Sue Veer said the panel members also needed to compile a list of current efforts and outreach programs available from the organizations the panel members represent. Knowing whats already being done could help them better collaborate and save resources through strategic cooperation.

We have a real army here to address this problem, but we dont know what were doing, she said.

The panel talked about reaching out to radio stations that have programming geared toward Black and Latino audiences, to have medical professionals talk about vaccines and combat misinformation, along with explaining why people should get vaccinated. The panel also talked about seeking partnerships with historically Black sororities and fraternities.

Veer, president and CEO of Carolina Health Centers, said putting out factual information through population-specific channels could be a boon in trying to convince more people to get vaccinated.

We surveyed our employees a few weeks ago and Whats the point if theres going to be variants, was mind-blowing to me, she said.

While this was only the panels second meeting, Veer and others said it seems like the start of something bigger than the COVID-19 response. This coalition of regional health care professionals, working in tandem with DHEC, could be the groundwork of a larger movement for broader public health collaboration.

Contact staff writer Damian Dominguez at 864-634-7548 or follow on Twitter @IJDDOMINGUEZ.

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DHEC: SC still far from relaxing COVID precautions - Index-Journal

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