PITTSBORO — The Chatham County Public Health Department issued the following updates related to the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccination.
After several weeks of substantial community transmission of COVID-19, Chatham County’s transmission level has returned to high, mirroring nearly all of North Carolina and much of the United States. Cases are expected to continue to rise throughout winter and due to the emergence of the Omicron variant, which early research has shown to be much more transmissible than previous variants. North Carolina’s daily case numbers topped 4,000 twice within the last two weeks for the first time since October, and hospitalization numbers have risen above 1,500. Chatham County has seen similar increases recently after a few weeks of relatively low case numbers.
There is still more to learn about the Omicron variant, but studies have shown that a full vaccine series plus a booster shot provides the best protection against severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19. To reduce the risk of infection during the holiday season, the Chatham County Public Health Department recommends getting a booster shot, getting tested before gathering, and wearing a mask in indoor, crowded spaces.
“We have the tools to help us combat COVID-19, including the Omicron variant,” said Chatham County Public Health Director Mike Zelek. “Getting vaccinated, including the booster dose, is the best action you can take to protect yourself and those around you.”
Recent COVID-19 case data from NCDHHS showed that for the week ending December 11, 83% of cases were among unvaccinated people, while 76% of cases for the week ending December 4 were in unvaccinated people. Additionally, NCDHHS recently announced that 91% of COVID-19 deaths so far in 2021 were in people who were not fully vaccinated.
Finally, a recent report from The Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit agency that conducts independent research on health care issues, projected that approximately 1.1 million COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. were prevented in 2021 due to COVID-19 vaccinations.
“These vaccines have saved many lives, including here in Chatham,” Zelek said. “This holiday season, we are grateful to the public health and health care workers who have worked so hard to vaccinate, and to the more than 40,000 Chatham residents who have rolled up their sleeves.”
On Dec. 9, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its COVID-19 booster recommendations to say everyone 16 and older should receive a booster shot at least 6 months after their initial vaccine series. While booster shots are authorized for all vaccines for individuals 18 and older, only the Pfizer vaccine has been authorized for adolescents 16 and 17.
Booster shots are widely available in Chatham County at many vaccine locations. Growing evidence shows that the booster shot is highly effective at strengthening protection against the virus, making it imperative that anyone who received their Pfizer or Moderna vaccine series at least six months ago or their Johnson & Johnson (J&J) shot at least two months ago get a booster as soon as possible. Chatham residents can find a vaccine location near them at www.vaccines.gov.
COVID-19 vaccines have been available for children ages 5-11 since October, and many Chatham County children have taken advantage. As of December 16, 24% of Chatham residents ages 5-11 have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Chatham County ranks in the top 5 of North Carolina counties in terms of the percentage of children ages 5-11 vaccinated.
Chatham residents can find a vaccine location for children near them at www.vaccines.gov. As of now, only the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine has been authorized for children ages 5-11.
The CDC now recommends that most Americans opt for the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine over the J&J vaccine. The recommendation took into consideration very rare but potentially serious blood clots, as well as the widespread availability of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. For those who previously received the J&J vaccine and who have not yet gotten their booster shot, the CDC recommends getting a Pfizer or Moderna booster.
“While serious side effects are incredibly rare and it remains clear that the benefits of getting any of the vaccines outweighs potential risks, we are fortunate to have multiple options,” Zelek said. “This recommendation takes that into account and also reemphasizes the importance of getting vaccinated, including a booster shot.”
To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine and find other resources, visit the county's COVID-19 webpage. To learn more about the Chatham County Public Health Department, visit its website or Facebook page.
Editor’s note: Mike Zelek was a guest last week on The Chatcast, the podcast of the News + Record and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Carolina. You can find the episode by searching for “The Chatcast” whereever you find your favorite podcasts.
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