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Vax the Valley: New push to up local COVID vaccination rate

Augusta County, in particular, is still lagging behind in COVID-19 vaccinations. A joint effort of Augusta Health and the Central Shenandoah Health District is aiming to take on the lingering community hesitancy.

The first in a series of Vax the Valley events is set for Saturday from 4-7 p.m. at Sunspots Pavilion in Downtown Staunton, with free COVID-19 vaccinations the focal point, but also music from Brent Hall & Brittany Leigh, 14 lbs and The Findells, and food from some of your favorite local food trucks.

Jordi Shelton from the Central Shenandoah Health District said in an interview for the “Street Knowledge” podcast today that the goal of the Vax the Valley series is to “celebrate how far we’ve come, and to start the final push toward meeting the goal of 70 percent and continue to go even further.”

“We’re always looking for new ways to incentivize vaccination, make it accessible, and make it fun,” Shelton said. “We’re so excited to be partnering with Augusta Health to have this just really unique opportunity for folks to come out and not only be in community with one another, but also get a COVID-19 vaccine.”

According to the Virginia Department of Health, 57.4 percent of Augusta County adults have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and 54.1 percent are fully vaccinated.

The two cities are faring better – Staunton is at 67.3 percent of adults with at least one shot, and 62.6 percent fully vaccinated, with Waynesboro at 65.0 percent with at least one shot, and 60.0 percent fully vaccinated.

We still have a ways to go to get to the 70 percent fully vaccinated goal that President Biden has set.

“Vaccine hesitancy is profound, especially in our community,” said Isaac Izzillo, the director of COVID vaccination and education at Augusta Medical Group. “What’s really effective is people having conversations with trusted professionals. And so that’s why, at the Vax the Valley event, if someone wants to come that has been vaccinated, that’s having a challenging time to having a discussion with a loved one on how to approach them to get vaccinated, we’d love to have that conversation with them as well.”

More numbers from the Virginia Department of Health demonstrate what the stakes are with this effort.

Since late January, when COVID-19 vaccines first became available to the general public in the Commonwealth, 99.4 percent of cases, 99 percent of hospitalizations, and 99.3 percent of deaths have occurred in people who have not been vaccinated.

There you go. That’s why this is important.

“We’re seeing folks who may just feel I don’t need it, I’m young, I’m relatively healthy, but with these new variants that are coming into play, that are much more contagious, it is so crucial to get vaccinated,” Shelton said. “I mean, you said it, 99.4 percent of the cases that we’re seeing in the state are in folks that are not fully vaccinated. So, the more opportunities that we can provide for folks to speak with those trusted healthcare professionals to get the vaccine in a way that’s accessible to them, whether that’s making it so they don’t have to leave work to get the vaccine, or anything like that, it just, it really, really does help folks who are right on the fence.”

Additional Vax the Valley events

  • Saturday, July 31, 1-7 p.m., Barren Ridge Vineyards
    Featuring music from Reverend Kelly & Big Love, Joe Zullo & Josh Mullins, Kiz Carter & Juke Jackson
  • Saturday, Aug. 7, 4-7 p.m., Constitution Park, Downtown Waynesboro
    Featuring music from River Rock Band, Shagwuf, The Findells

Story by Chris Graham

Augusta Health Augusta Free Press Kris McMackin CPA
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