WORCESTER – City officials warned on Thursday that with a new, highly transmissible variant of the COVID-19 virus spreading in the region, residents who have not yet been vaccinated are putting themselves and others at risk .
Outside Gala Foods on Main Street, officials said that while new cases of the virus and hospitalizations remain low, vaccination rates are not where they need to be for the community to achieve herd immunity. that it needs to stop the spread.
Dr Matilde Castiel, the city’s health and social services commissioner, said if residents did not get vaccinated, the virus would smolder for years in neighborhoods like Main South and the communities of color that have been affected. disproportionately by the virus, but lagged behind in vaccines.
As officials spoke, a tent set up along the sidewalk served as a pop-up vaccination station. Castiel said 12 people took advantage of it today. Some were traveling and she said a woman told her she was nervous about getting the vaccine because she had high blood pressure. Castiel said she told him that was exactly why she should get the vaccine – the virus tends to attack the elderly and those with complicated medical conditions.
Castiel said that in the city, only 32% of the black and Latin American population have been fully immunized, compared to 48% of white residents and 55% of Asian residents.
âCommunities of color need to get vaccinated,â Castiel said.
Public advocacy for those who are still hesitant to finally get vaccinated reflects a certain level of concern that the delta variant of the virus could trigger another epidemic among the unvaccinated population.
Dr Richard Ellison, infectious disease expert at UMass Memorial Health, said the vaccines have been shown to be resistant against variant strains of the virus, including the delta variant, which have originated in India and in the region for at least two months. He said UMass and the state’s Department of Public Health sequenced samples and only saw the delta variant of the virus appear in their work in May, when about 5% of the samples returned as matching. to the new variant. . Across the state and New England, that percentage could quickly start to double, Ellison said.
Ellison said more vaccinations give the virus less chance of mutating into these highly transmissible variants. He said viruses are simple organisms and just want to replicate. He said they don’t do a very good job of that, and mutates. He said scientists have likely seen thousands of variants of the COVID-19 virus. With most of them you can’t tell the difference between the variant and the original virus, but others like the delta variant and the UK variant which have overtaken the original virus as a strain. dominant in many places, have characteristics that make them very dangerous.
City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. said the UK variant was around 50% more transmissible than the original virus, and the new delta variant was found to be around 50% more transmissible than the UK variant.
He likened the delta variant to a “homing missile” that will find the unvaccinated in a community. This is why the city is imploring residents of neighborhoods with a high concentration of unvaccinated people to do so. He said it is especially important for students aged 12 or older in the city’s school system to get immunized early; there is a period of three to four weeks between the first and the second stroke, it is already July, and school starts at the end of August.
Castiel said the city understands people may not have had the time or the transportation to get the vaccine. She said that is why the city is bringing the vaccine to the community, with various walk-in clinics, mobile vaccination units and new promotions with places like Gala Foods and LaPlaza Supermarket, where gift certificates will be. given at the next vaccination clinics.
Dr Michael P. Hirsh, the city’s public health director, said the city’s health department is working on installing a frozen refrigeration unit for vaccines to serve as a hub for doctors and local dentists. He said the hope is to develop a program that eventually offers vaccines in places like barber shops or beauty salons.
Hirsh said the city’s medical centers are in good shape and the number is low, but Augustus noted that after several weeks of decline, the number of new cases has risen again, with 13 more cases than the last. last week and four additional COVID-19 cases hospitalized between St. Vincent Hospital and UMass Memorial Health. There have been three more COVID-19 intensive care unit cases in the past week, but no additional deaths, Augustus reported.
Hirsh said that due to the vaccine’s effectiveness against serious illnesses, even with a “breakthrough” infection, the only people hospitalized are not vaccinated.
Augustus said residents who are not vaccinated should continue to wear masks, but said the city is a mask-friendly place and urged residents not to shame or question the decision of a resident to wear a mask. He said as the delta variant spread, the city wanted to remind residents that the virus is still with us. And he said with 40% of the population still unvaccinated, another outbreak could pose a serious threat to the local health system.