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With cases rising, community leaders discuss why they got vaccinated

Stanly County has been struggling of late when it comes to residents getting vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Through Monday, only 32 percent of residents are fully vaccinated, according to state data, one of the lowest rates in the state.

As new cases and hospitalizations are increasing again due to the spread of the Delta variant, which is reportedly several times more infectious than previous strains, vaccinations are more important than ever, health officials say. Delta now accounts for an estimated 83 percent of new coronavirus cases in the county, according to the CDC.

Stanly’s cases have more than doubled in recent weeks. The county reported 72 new cases last week, a 106 percent increase from the week prior, when there were only 35 new cases. The positivity rate has also skyrocketed from two percent in late June to eight percent now, well above the five percent benchmark at which the virus is thought to be contained.

Eleven people in the county were hospitalized as of last Friday, almost double the total from the previous week. Three Albemarle firefighters, who are among the 10 fire personnel who have recently contracted the virus, were in the hospital last week. City officials, in a news conference Wednesday, said firefighters were on a break “for their mental, physical and emotional well-being” until Monday morning. Firefighters from Concord and Kannapolis stepped in to help serve the community.

But across both the state and country, most of the new cases and almost all of the hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated. While vaccinated people can still get infected — known as breakthrough cases — it’s rare. Out of the more than 160 million fully vaccinated Americans, only 5,492 were hospitalized or died after testing positive, according to the Associated Press. Stanly has had seven breakthrough cases since July 1, according to county health officials.

“We’re very concerned from a public health standpoint,” said Stanly County Public Health Director David Jenkins, noting there have been a small number of documented breakthrough cases in the county, though these individuals are experiencing less serious illness.

Over the past week, the state reported several days of more than 1,000 cases, topped by Friday’s 1,998, the highest single-day figure since May 20, state Department of Health and Human Services data show. To put it in proper context, a month ago, the state was reporting less than 500 daily cases, with only 55 cases on June 26.

Only 46 percent of all N.C. residents are fully vaccinated, per state data, a lower rate than many other states across the country.

“I think the biggest take-home message is that the vaccine is the best way to protect people and their loved ones from this COVID-19 Delta variant,” Jenkins added. Vaccines are available at the health department from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday.

To help encourage more residents to get their shot, The Stanly News & Press reached out to several community leaders, via phone calls and emails, with a question: Why was it important to them to get vaccinated? In their own words, here is what those who responded had to say. Some of their responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

County Manager Andy Lucas

Andy Lucas

“After contracting COVID in late December and battling the effects for approximately one week, I made a decision I would get vaccinated when it was my turn in order to reduce the likelihood of having to experience the symptoms of COVID again. Further, given the number of folks I interact with in the community, I believe the vaccine provides an additional level of protection. Lastly, I got the shot to help protect my parents who are in their early and mid 70s.”

Locust Planning and Zoning Director Scott Efird

Scott Efird

“At the end of the day, I did it for my family. I really just want to get back a normal way of life, and I didn’t do it as much to protect myself as much as I wanted to protect others.”

County Commissioner Chairman Bill Lawhon

“I trust the CDC and the recommendations of a vaccine…I wanted to do it to protect myself and those

Bill Lawhon

around me. This is voluntary and each citizen can make their own decision, but I do believe the vaccine works. I do think, yeah, there are breakthrough cases but they are probably not suffering as bad as they would have had they not had the vaccine.”

Albemarle Mayor Ronnie Michael

“Our community has experienced a large number of deaths and sickness that is now more controllable. While vaccinations may

Ronnie Michael

affect individuals differently, I chose to receive the vaccination to protect my family and others in the community I may meet on a daily basis. My family has experienced sickness that has taken weeks to recover….The information I received or read showed the benefits of the vaccine far outweighed the potential side effects or the risk of sickness when not receiving the vaccine….I am concerned for my family and our community with infections increasing. I encourage others to receive the vaccine.”

Albemarle Councilman Dexter Townsend

Dexter Townsend

“I believe it will take all methods: vaccinations; social distancing; mask wearing and other protective measures to end this pandemic. I personally encountered COVID and chose to take the vaccine to protect my family, coworkers, constituents as well as myself.”

Pfeiffer University President Dr. Scott Bullard

“On a very personal level, I’m a numbers person and I

Scott Bullard

read that 99.5 percent of people who have died of COVID-19 were unvaccinated and that less than 0.5 percent of people who have died of COVID-19 were vaccinated….It was a numbers game to me and it just made more sense to be vaccinated.

“On a communal level, as a member of the community, my position requires me to interact not only with young people and to be a model for young people but I’m often interacting over meals and other environments with the elderly and other at-risk populations in our community. I want to protect those people and I think getting vaccinated is a great way to protect others.”

Stanly Community College President Dr. John Enamait

John Enamait

“Frankly, it became a matter of protecting those that I cared deeply about. It’s less about me…I feel like I’m in pretty good health. I wasn’t terribly concerned about me becoming sick but then it became a question of the people that I care about, my family and the faculty and staff here at the college. I wanted to make sure I was taking the necessary actions to protect those that I care about and do what I can to help blunt the spread.”

Board of Education Chairman Jeff Chance

“My reason is simple. I have chronic health problems and take medications that

Jeff Chance

lower my immune system. Therefore, I’m a high risk individual who very well might have a bad outcome if I were to contract Covid-19. I did my research on the vaccines and consulted with my doctors who strongly advised me to get the vaccine, and they themselves were taking it also. I fully realize the vaccines were developed rather quickly, but it’s my opinion that some of the best virologists and epidemiologists in the country collaborated on their development and I felt comfortable, as did my wife, in taking them.”

He added: “Lastly, I wanted to not only protect myself and my family, but also my patients and the many others I come in contact with daily. We have to all do our part to get Covid-19 under control, or we will be at it’s mercy for years to come.”

Stanfield Mayor Kevin Barbee

“For me getting vaccinated was not really a question of if. For me vaccination was not political or a question of the right to choose. I get the flu vaccine knowing it may or may not protect me from the flu. I understand the flu vaccine does lower my chances of getting sick from the flu. I like to hedge my bets. Covid vaccine for me is more straightforward. Do I want to lower my risk of dying? I do. I have lost friends and relatives to this sickness. I want to enjoy my family and friends a little longer.”
He continued: “I work in the engineering healthcare industry spending many days working with hospitals to limit risk and providing a safer environment for folks. The vaccine does both. I believe my faith requires me to love others as I do myself. I do not like to be sick and have an obligation to not make others sick. The vaccine does that. I am unsure how I would live with myself if I made someone sick and as a result of being sick they became disabled or worse yet died from that exposure. That would be made worse if the person I made sick was close family.”
State Rep. Wayne Sasser

“I’ve had Covid and the vaccine so I would like to think I’m pretty much bullet-

Rep. Wayne Sasser

proof….I 100 percent advise that everybody needs to get the vaccine….Definitely the safest thing that can happen to everyone is if we get to the point where we’ve got herd immunity, which is somewhere roughly 75 percent of everybody vaccinated…What getting vaccinated will do for everybody, it will prepare us to hopefully not get the virus but at least if we get the virus, it should not be severe as it would have been if we didn’t have any antibodies in our system to fight it.”

Regarding the speed at which vaccines were created, which has been a source of concern for some people, he said “this is a lot more normal than people think it is but we’re doing it on the fly because the pandemic has been so widespread that we needed to do things ahead of schedule.”
Public health education specialist Wendy Growcock
“I felt confident taking the vaccine on the first day that it was offered to me because I had read about the different testing and trials they had done on it. I trust our North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services…they have a lot of people that have done a lot of research on the vaccine….I wanted it to protect myself from serious illness. I help to take care of my elderly parents and wanted to protect them and wanted to protect everybody in Stanly County, so if I don’t have it I can’t spread it.”
Sanctuary Christian Outreach Ministry pastor Gwendolyn Holland
“Being vaccinated for every other kind of disease and condition, I just felt very comfortable with the science behind this vaccine, even though it was fast….I just believe this was a very effective vaccine that was produced in order to protect us from this Covid virus, and with so many people dying from it, what do you have to lose? The gamble of taking the vaccine and having side effects far outweighed the gamble of not taking it and dying.”
She also mentioned that her faith played a key role in her getting vaccinated.
“I believe the way the scientists were able to produce this so quickly, I believe that God gave them the knowledge, he gave them the ability….It wasn’t just my logic but my faith and belief that this was God at work producing the vaccine.”

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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