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Mike Zelek, the director of Chatham County’s Public Health Department, and his staff continue to focus on the vaccination efforts more than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic. In this brief discussion with the News + Record, Zelek provides the latest on the fight.
Where do we stand in Chatham County right now in terms of vaccines administered?
As of April 9, 29,212 people at least partially vaccinated (39.2% of population); 20,338 people fully vaccinated (27.4% of population). (Note: “fully vaccinated” doesn’t always mean “two doses.” Some Chatham residents could have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires one dose.)
For more information, go to the department's website.
Right now, since April 7, everyone age 16 and older is eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Since Group 5 was added to the eligibility list, what have you seen in terms of vaccine demand in Chatham?
We are currently seeing that the supply of vaccine is sufficient to meet the demand, even with the addition of Group 5. This means that if you have not yet been vaccinated, now is the time to get your shot. We need vaccination rates to continue to increase to beat this pandemic.
What’s availability looking like now?
There are available appointments; visit starmed.care to register.
Studies and surveys show that the number of people expressing reluctance to get vaccinated is decreasing slightly. In your position, what are you hearing anecdotally about acceptance and skepticism about the vaccination programs?
We have made tremendous progress over the past several months and are grateful to all who have rolled up their sleeves to get vaccinated and put this pandemic in the past. We are seeing that vaccination interest is likely higher in older populations and among those with higher perceived risk of severe illness. However, if Chatham residents of all ages don’t roll up their sleeves to get the vaccine, it will be difficult for us all to move beyond the pandemic and return to many of the activities we love. That is why it is so critical, for ourselves individually, for our families and loved ones, and for the entire Chatham community, that all get vaccinated.
Let’s talk about trajectory of cases. What’s happening in Chatham in terms of: Confirmed numbers of cases, Testing and the percent of positive tests, Hospitalizations?
There has been a sharp decline in cases and hospitalizations since early this year, though there has been a small uptick in recent weeks. Other areas of the country have seen sharper increases, likely due to not being as diligent with public health measures and emergence of COVID variants. This reinforces the importance of getting vaccinated sooner than later and continuing to practice the 3 Ws, especially when out in public and around groups of people, particularly where many are not fully vaccinated.
With N.C. becoming more “open” in terms of gatherings and limits and relaxed restrictions, are you concerned about increase of spread? Or have preventative measures taken hold?
This will depend on vaccination uptake. Right now if more of these gatherings were to occur, especially where people are unvaccinated, unmasked, and close together, we would be very concerned that cases would rise.
For those who HAVE been vaccinated…what assurances do you have?
Vaccinations are right now the best line of defense we have against COVID-19.
The CDC has released guidance for those who are fully vaccinated, including that they can gather with others in private settings who are fully vaccinated without wearing a mask. They also do not need to quarantine if they come into close contact with someone who has COVID-19. From a local public health perspective having responded situations like this over the past year, this is very reassuring and a testament to the effectiveness of the vaccines. For both your health and for practical reasons, you should get vaccinated.
For those who have NOT been vaccinated — what’s your word to them?
Get vaccinated, the sooner the better. There are appointments available and all ages 16 and older are eligible.