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You want things back to normal? Get vaccinated already

Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine
Photo courtesy Augusta Health.

Conventional wisdom has it that Republican areas would be severely lagging behind the rest of the country in COVID-19 vaccinations, but that’s not proving to be the case locally.

Augusta County, which went 72.6 percent for Donald Trump in November, has a 40.3 percent rate of residents who have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, not far off the 42.5 percent U.S. average and 42.9 percent average for the Commonwealth.

The fully vaccinated number in Augusta County is at 31.1 percent, which is actually ahead of the U.S. average (28.9 percent) and the state (28.7 percent).

The two local cities – Staunton (49.5 percent with at least one vaccine dose, 36.9 percent fully vaccinated) and Waynesboro (43.6 percent with at least one vaccine dose, 31.6 percent fully vaccinated) – are also tracking well.

Credit needs to go here to the hard work of the team at Augusta Health, which has been out front in leading the way toward getting our part of the Valley on the road to normalcy.

“It starts with a great team. We stood up incident command structure to help guide us and direct us through this journey. We have a phenomenal team to address a multitude of needs within our community,” said Isaac Izzillo, the director of COVID vaccination and education at Augusta Medical Group, who has been heading up the vaccination effort at Augusta Health.

The operation got up and running in a matter of weeks late last year, beginning with an effort to get team members at the hospital vaccinated, then pivoting to focus on the community at large.

Augusta Health transformed its indoor tennis courts into a vaccination clinic to allow for the ramp up, and has in recent weeks added mobile clinics to be able to reach out and connect with people challenged by travel.

“We’ve done over 40 community clinics, first and second doses, with over 4,000 fully vaccinated,” Izzillo said. “We have a strike force, a group of individuals that go out in the community, and I foresee that that’s going to ramp up as well, as less people who are going to tend to come in to our larger-scale clinic, they’re going to want that convenience, and we’re going to have to go to them.”

The mobile clinics get vaccines to people in far-flung rural parts of the county. A new focus is on education for those for whom travel isn’t necessarily the issue.

“As we look and see who’s been vaccinated, all the people that had a great sense of urgency and really wanted to be here, they’ve been vaccinated. We really want to be able to reach out and connect with individuals and address any concerns that come in,” Izzillo said. “For so long, we waited for vaccine allocation. That was our rate limiting factor. Now we have the vaccine, we have the capacity, we’ve opened up space, our goal is to do 6,000 to 7,000 vaccinations a week. We just need them to come.”

The CDC COVID-19 dashboard update has us past the 140 million vaccination mark nationally at this writing, and as those numbers have been increasing, we’ve seen the number of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths dropping dramatically – all are at a fifth of their mid-January peak.

“Some people are still reluctant, because they think the vaccines hadn’t been tested long enough,” Izzillo said. “I strongly recommend all individuals receiving this vaccine. It’s really about listening, making them feel comfortable, having those one-on-one conversations with individuals that are on the fence.

“I couldn’t be more confident that my children have been vaccinated, you know, my friends and my family have been vaccinated. Why would I distrust a vaccine with my own kids if it wasn’t safe? I can’t say it enough. We need to get everyone vaccinated to get some normalcy in our lives.”

Story by Chris Graham

augusta free press news
augusta free press news