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Officials hope FDA approval of Pfizer vaccine helps persuade people to get vaccinated

With the The Food and Drug Administration on Monday granting full approval for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, local health officials hope this step will help persuade more residents who might have been skeptical to get their shot.

“I think there’s a small group of people that that’s their reason for not getting vaccinated yet,” said Wendy Growcock, public health specialist with the Stanly County Health Department. “And I hope that this has changed their mind and they’re ready to get vaccinated.”

Pfizer’s became the first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been approved by the FDA for emergency use authorization.

More than 200 million Pfizer doses already have been administered in the U.S., according to the Associated Press, while just over half of the total population has been vaccinated by either of the three vaccines.

Vaccinations in Stanly surged during the beginning of the year with people flooding the department’s coronavirus hotline to get in line to get their shot. From January through March, the county vaccinated more than 1,000 people a week. But vaccinations began to decline in April and into the summer. Stanly was averaging less than 200 vaccinations a week in May and June, though the numbers have ticked up to more than 300 in July and August.

At a time when new cases are increasing each week, as a result of the highly transfusible delta variant, the county's vaccination rate has lagged behind most of the other counties across these state. Only 34 percent of eligible residents are fully vaccinated, according to state data, with about 37 percent having received at least one dose.

This still leaves a large majority of the county, around 41,000 people, more susceptible to catching the virus.

"We are slowly, slowly increasing, but we have a ways to go at the end of the day," said Stanly County Health Director David Jenkins.

While they are busy, health officials have worked to have some one-on-one conversations with reluctant residents who reach out, to hear them and address any concerns they might have.

Whenever engaging in conversations with people who have not been vaccinated, Jenkins says he likes to first listen to their perspective and where they are coming from. He then respectfully asks them how they came to their conclusions.

Only after he learns about their perspectives does Jenkins talk about the scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of the coronavirus vaccines, including how they prevent people from getting seriously sick and in need of hospitalization.

Jenkins emphasizes that when explaining the benefits of the vaccines, health officials are not "coming from a place of bias. We are coming from a place of compassion to where we're trying to save lives and prevent hospitalizations here."

These personal conversations at times have proven effective at convincing certain people to get the shot.

"We're kind of chipping away at those vaccine-hesitant folks," Growcock said, "and that's a few more folks we can get on board to protect themselves and protect the community."

While no specific businesses in the county have issued vaccine mandates, Atrium Health announced vaccine requirements for its workers last month. This includes all employees including those at Atrium Health Stanly. Atrium will require all workers to get vaccinated or have an approved medical or religious exemption by Oct. 31.

People can go to the health department to get vaccinated from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday.

Cases continue to rise as students return to school

The need for people to get vaccinated comes as the large number of hospitalizations, upwards of around 90 percent in the Charlotte area, are among people who are unvaccinated. Twenty-eight people in Stanly are hospitalized as of Monday, the highest single-day total since January.
Stanly had 305 new cases last week, an 18 percent increase from the week before, when the county had 258 cases. The county also reported 132 new cases over the weekend. There have been nine new deaths so far this month, bringing the cumulative total to 153.

Since July 1, there have been 1,162 total cases, of which 19 percent (221) have been among children 17 and younger. There have also been 98 breakthrough cases, where fully vaccinated people have become infected.

As cases have been increasing, so have people getting tested. People can get tested at Walgreens and CVS locations throughout the county along with the OptumServe tent outside Stanly Commons and the tent outside Stanly Community College's Locust location (lhi.care/covidtesting).

Jenkins strongly encourages people to isolate at home while awaiting test results.

While students younger than 12 are not yet eligible to get vaccinated, those 12 to 17 can receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. In Stanly, only 13 percent of that eligible population is fully vaccinated, much lower than the statewide rate of 31 percent.

As most students are returning to schools this week, Jenkins said the health department will continue to work with SCS Director of Student Services Beverly Pennington and school nurses, including helping to conduct contact tracing should any outbreaks arise.

Even though SCS requires students and staff to wear masks, Jenkins said the health department is preparing for the possibility that outbreaks will occur, as they have with many other local districts that have already started back.

"Anytime you bring that many people together, because we know the delta variant is highly contagious even with children...I'll say it's concerning, but we'll do everything we can to mitigate the spread with a team effort from the school system and our department," Jenkins said.

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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