(LEX 18) — As the Delta variant spreads, the risk for unvaccinated people grows, according to health officials.
"The Delta variant is particularly aggressive," North Central District Health Department Director, Roanya Rice, said. "It's easily transmissible."
Rice's department covers Shelby, Henry Trimble, and Spencer counties and she said they all have vaccination rates in the 30-40% range. Looking specifically at Spencer County, this differs from State data, which reports a 21% vaccination rate. Rice contends this is inaccurate due to some residents being put in the "unknown" category for where they live. She said she has been working with the State to correct this.
Even so, she said the vaccination rates in her four counties need to be higher.
"It's not where we need to be," she said. "There's still more work to be done."
Rice said that at the beginning of the pandemic, their numbers were low due to accessibility issues. Now, she said that is no longer the case. She said hesitancy is the problem.
"Now it's just going to be a personal decision of will I get vaccinated or will I not?" she said. "A certain percentage of those folks may be buying into myths and not be researching credible sources for their information."
To combat this, they are focusing on education and relying on trusted sources to relay factual information.
"We are working with churches," Rice said. "We are working with clinics that target special populations that we're trying to reach. And then reinforcement. It's not a one-and-done. Many times this is a conversation that has to take place multiple times at multiple different locations because each time they gain a little more comfort, so it's getting them all the way to the point where they say 'yea, I'll take that vaccine'."
Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack recommends this method as well. He also said after that, it's the individual's decision.
"But to not have folks readily accepting that protection is a sadness of a sort," he said. "It's their choice, and I respect that but it's also a sadness because they accept a risk they need not take, and ultimately society accepts a risk because we're all in this together."
President Joe Biden addressed those who have refused to get vaccinated during a speech at the White House Tuesday, even while he touted the progress the country has made against COVID-19.
"The bottom line is the virus is on the run and America's coming back," President Biden said. "And we're coming back together."
Despite the optimistic tone, Biden stressed that people should not grow "complacent," noting that there are millions of unvaccinated Americans who remain vulnerable to the highly transmissible Delta variant.
"Please get vaccinated," the president said. "It works and it's free."
The president's plea came as his administration unveiled a new approach to increase vaccination rates.
The plan includes shifting focus from mass vaccination sites to more localized targets.
"We need to go community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood, and oftentimes literally knocking on doors to get help to the remaining people protected from the virus," President Biden said.
The plan also includes sending "COVID-19 surge response teams," composed of experts from FEMA, the CDC, and other federal agencies, to help areas with low vaccination rates combat the spread of the Delta variant.
The federal government will also be sending more vaccine supplies to local pharmacies, primary care doctors, and pediatricians.
"It's not a surprise that we do well when we're given access to the COVID vaccine because lots of people have questions," Dr. Elizabeth Hawse, M.D., of Commonwealth Pediatrics in Lexington, said. "Because who knows your health better than your primary care provider?"
Health officials say that those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have significant protection against the Delta variant.