JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – As hospitalizations and cases of the novel coronavirus seem to be dropping for now, Ballad Health is urging caution as the new variant draws nearer.
Ballad Health Chief Infection Prevention Officer Jamie Swift told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that the race is on to get the region vaccinated before the new COVID-19 variant arrives.
“They’re still really trying to study and look at that, what we do know is it does look like it’s more infectious and so we’re really in that race against time to get as many vaccines in arms, as we can before the variant gets here,” Swift said. “I mean, CDC expects it to be the dominant strain as early as March. We know there have been cases in Tennessee already, so you know, and Virginia. And so I think it’s just a matter of time, unless we can really buckle down on the social distancing the wearing the mask, and then getting that vaccine supply increase you know that’s really what’s going to make the difference in staying ahead of these variant strains.”
As the new variant strain reached Tennessee and Virginia, Swift told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that it has not yet reached the Tri-Cities region.
“Not yet, so you know they’re still really trying to study and look at that, what we do know is it does look like it’s more infectious and so we’re really in that race against time to get as many vaccines in arms, as we can before the variant gets here,” she said.
The problem, Swift explained, is that the vaccine supply is slowing from the federal level.
“As a region we’re doing the best we can with what we have, but the message is plain we are not getting enough as a state from the federal government, either in Tennessee, or Virginia, we could give so much more vaccine, you know, partnering with us and the health department’s and all the places that can give vaccines, we can get it in arms very quickly, the supply’s just not here,” Swift said.
“Right now, we don’t know of the new variant being here so that’s something to keep in mind. And I know people are tired, I know especially as they see the good trends and numbers coming down all those things, those are great and, and I try to celebrate those. But at the same time, I try to remind people we can’t let up, we still have a positivity right that’s much higher than we want it to be in the region. And so if we let up, we’ll just repeat what we’ve done with several past peaks so as we’re coming down, we need to keep doing the social distancing the masking. Let’s get the numbers, even lower. and then go from there.”
She said Ballad Health is working to get as many people vaccinated as supply can manage.
“I know with the vaccine rollout – everybody wants a vaccine, we want to get it to them, so I just asked people to know that as a region. We continue to, you know, Ballad Health is working with the health department’s in both states, we’re going to do whatever we can to ensure that we’re getting vaccine out just as quickly as possible,” Swift said.
As the new variant becomes a clearer reality, Swift explained that research is still being done to determine efficacy of the vaccine on the new strain, along with reinfection rates, and more.
It’s really easy to feel like you can let up a little bit. I mean, right now, it really isn’t the right thing to do. Until we understand a little bit more about this virus, whether it’s natural immunity for those 90 days, or whether it’s the vaccine. You know, we just need to understand if someone has been infected, can you get reinfected, have it in your, in your nasal passages spread it, even though you’re not sick so there’s a lot we need to understand before we can make that recommendation. I do think there will be recommendations that come out around that that take that into consideration. But for right now the message is continues to be where the mask social distance wash your hands,” she said.