Jun. 29—VALDOSTA — A mere 26% of Lowndes County residents have been vaccinated against COVID-19, lagging far behind the state and nation.
According to the Georgia Department of Health, slightly more than 29,725 Lowndes County residents are fully vaccinated. More than 61,235 have received at least one shot.
In the state of Georgia, about 38% of the population has been fully vaccinated and the national rate stands near 47%.
The 26% in Lowndes County is a total of vaccinations given by all providers in the county (such as South Georgia Medical Center, the public health department, drug stores, etc.) since that information is reported to the Georgia Registry of Immunization Transactions and Services.
SGMC vaccine data, which currently counts 35,096 individuals vaccinated, includes those vaccinated from multiple counties, according to Erika Bennett, SGMC director of marketing.
The hospital regularly updates that data to GRITS which separates it into the respective counties including Berrien, Echols, Brooks, Clinch, Cook and Lanier.
It's the same system used for flu and back to school vaccinations, Kristin Patten, GDPH South District's public information officer, said.
"We as a state, and locally as a district, as well, are trying to make sure we are meeting people where they are to provide vaccine education," she said.
Dispelling misinformation is one way the GDPH hopes to ease vaccination hesitancy, but there are difference along gender and racial lines in the overall vaccination percentage.
The Asian and "other" (which usually means the person identifies as another race not provided) populations hold the highest percentages of vaccinations at 39.2% and 53.2%, respectively.
The white population is the median of the data with 27.1% vaccinated, and the Black and American Indian/Alaska Native populations are at the low end with 23.9% and 22.1%, respectively.
Statewide data reflects a similar story. "Other" and Asian populations hold the highest percentages with 83.7% and 74% respectively; American Indian/Alaskan Native is the median here with 41.1%; and the lowest percentages are the white and Black populations with 38.9% and 33.2% respectively. County data shows a difference of 3.2%, while state data shows a difference of 5.7% between the white and Black populations.
Patten said it's not the place of GDPH to make generalized statements, but state health officials do know there's medical mistrust within the Black community that can be traced through history.
"Whether it is through specific events such as the Tuskegee Study or overall medical mistreatment throughout the era of American slavery, there are numerous historical instances that have contributed to this apprehension," she said.
It's why the GDPH South District has been working with local churches and community leaders to offer safe spaces for vaccinations and vaccine education from voices the community trusts.
The DPH has also noticed a common trend in younger people (18-24) being less likely to get the vaccine.
People ages 55 to 85-plus have the highest percentages of the population vaccinated. Ages 55-64 are at 57.4%, ages 65-74 are at 87.1%, ages 75-84 are at 90.5%, and ages 85-plus are at 79.8%.
People ages 15-24 have the lowest percentages. Ages 15-19 are at 12.1%, and ages 20-24 are at 11.6%. Patten said they are likely not getting vaccinated because they don't think it's as "serious" a threat to them.
Women are more likely than men to get vaccinated. In Lowndes County, 32.4% of women have received at least one dose, compared to 25.1% of men.
"We want to remind everyone that, while certain age groups might be less likely to experience serious illness, it is not a guarantee," she said.
The vaccine doesn't just protect the user but others around them, she said.
There are people out there who can't take the vaccine, whether that's because of an allergic reaction to ingredients in the vaccine, age restrictions, etc., and that's why reaching herd immunity is important, health officials said.
COVID-19 cases have decreased in the past few months, with the county reporting low-end single-digit increases daily in recent weeks.
Still, new cases daily and the six COVID-19 variants are emerging throughout the country: B.1.1.7 (Alpha), B.1.351 (Beta), P.1 (Gamma), B.1.427 and B.1.429 (Epsilon) and B.1.617.2 (Delta) have been a cause of concern across the nation.
All of the variants were found between December 2020 and March 2021. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these variants spread quicker and more easily than other variants found previously.
"Vaccination is critical to stopping the spread of COVID and decreasing the number of variants that emerge," Patten said. "People who are unvaccinated or skip their second dose of vaccine are targets for infection."
Patten said the GDPH urges all Georgians ages 12 and older to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19. It's easier than ever now.
Looking back, Patten said the GDPH faced a huge rush of people wanting vaccinations. It was great to see, she said, but there were hiccups along the way — long wait times, lack of vaccine supply, etc.
Now there's an ample supply of vaccines and no long waiting period to schedule an appointment. People are in and out, she said.
The GDPH South District can't offer the vaccine to people younger than 18 — it doesn't offer the Pfizer vaccine — but there are no restrictions for people older than 18. All they'll need to do is call (229) 333-5290 to schedule an appointment. Vaccines are readily available at pharmacies, health care providers and the hospital also offers vaccinations and a COVID-19 hotline at (229) 433-1068.