This article was written by BenitoLink intern Juliana Luna.
On Dec. 14 the San Benito County Public Health conducted a town hall webinar to answer questions from the community regarding COVID-19 vaccines. It was followed by a 24-minute Q & A session.
San Benito County Health Officer Dr. George Gellert, a 35-year veteran of the public health sector, opened with an overview of recent data. He said that COVID-19 has killed 800,000 people in the U.S. and about 5.2 million people worldwide. He said that 878,000 Americans have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and that 48.7 million Americans have been infected with the disease.
“To put this into perspective, the last pandemic (HIV/AIDS) took 35 years to kill 700,000 Americans. It has taken COVID-19 only 21 months to kill the same number,” Gellert said. “We will reach one million deaths in 2022.”
He added that the new Omicron variant is considered more infectious than the Delta variant. Gellert said that vaccines are meant to prevent hospitalization and death from the virus and that a vaccine is highly effective with a booster dose. Currently, 20% of people in San Benito County have received a booster, Gellert said.
“A majority of the cases by and large that suffer the most are unvaccinated people,” said Dr. Michael Bogey, Chief Medical Officer and Medical Director of Emergency Medicine and Trauma at Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital.
Bogey admitted he was skeptical of the vaccine, but said that through his time working with people who were infected, he realized the vaccine’s impact.
During the presentation, Bogey gathered data signifying the county’s experience with COVID-19. There’s been 7,734 COVID-19 cases in San Benito County. He said 336 people have been hospitalized, and 17 of these patients were vaccinated. The virus has caused 80 deaths; two of the victims were vaccinated.
The town hall meeting then turned to the impact of COVID on children.
Bogey said 150,000 children in the U.S. have had a close family relative and caregiver killed by the coronavirus. He added that children have had learning losses and that mental health issues have increased in teenagers and sub-teenagers.
“Getting your kid vaccinated will prevent getting COVID,” said Bogey. He added that 70,000 children under 18 were hospitalized, from the 7 million children infected.
During the first week of September, there were nearly 2 million new cases among children, Bogey said.
He said COVID is the seventh leading cause of death in children as of December, and that unvaccinated adolescents were hospitalized 10 times more often than vaccinated ones.
Bogey said the Pfizer vaccine has been studied in over 2,200 children, and is safe and 91% effective. One side effect of the vaccine, he noted, is the infrequent mild inflammation of the heart, but said it’s less severe than what COVID-19 causes.
Mary White, Communicable Disease Control Advisor from San Benito County Health Human Services Agency said, “We are making progress in the county; our vaccination rates are higher than the state and national rates.”
White said the COVID vaccine does not contain the live virus; it can’t transmit the virus and the vaccines do not affect a person’s DNA, genes or reproductive system.
“This vaccine has been tested. It’s not experimental” said Gellert. He added that children need to wear masks until enough people are vaccinated to stop the spread of the virus.
One participant asked if vaccinating a child is still necessary after they have contracted COVID-19.
Gellert said that after they have recovered, they should.
“There is natural immunity after infection, but they will wane and lessen more rapidly than vaccine immunity,” he said. “Natural immunity will not be effective against diverse and emerging variants.”
Gellert said that by reaching an 80% to 90% vaccination rate in the county, we will have herd immunity.
White said that people who have had severe reactions to vaccines in the past should not be vaccinated. This would include people who have had an anaphylactic reaction to a vaccine.
Gellert ended the webinar by telling parents to vaccinate children and get booster shots.
“We may be in for a tough winter ahead with two variants now that are highly infectious,” he said. “Please, for yourself, for your family, for your community, for your country, please get vaccinated.”
The BenitoLink Internship Program is a paid, skill-building program that prepares local youth for a professional career. This program is supported by Monterey Peninsula Foundation AT&T Golf Tour, United Way, Taylor Farms and the Emma Bowen Foundation.
Help us bring on more interns! As a local nonprofit news organization, BenitoLink needs community support to continue developing important local programs like our youth and Latinx intern training program. You can keep it going strong by going to our BenitoLink donation page.