New vaccinations continue steep decline in Northeast Tennessee

Local Coronavirus Coverage

New COVID-19 vaccination rates in Northeast Tennessee have declined sharply the past four weeks.

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – New weekly COVID-19 vaccinations dropped to their third lowest total of the year in Northeast Tennessee last week, according to Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) data.

New jabs have declined for four straight weeks after a five-week string of strong numbers in August.

Last week’s total of 1,987 new doses was less than half the weekly average during the weeks ending Aug. 6 through Sept. 3. The seven-county region averaged 4,826 new vaccinations during those five weeks as cases were rising quickly with the delta variant’s onset.

The dean of East Tennessee State University’s College of Public Health, Dr. Randy Wykoff, said the slowdown leaves the area vulnerable.

“With a current regional vaccination rate of below 45%, our region is probably not protected from the next ‘wave,’” Wykoff said.

“If we want to prevent future spikes in hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and deaths, we need to significantly increase the number of people who are vaccinated against this disease.”

Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine told News Channel 11 he witnessed people’s attention to the vaccine increase “as the number of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths increased.”

The total dropped 39% from Sept. 3 to Sept. 10, declined just a bit the next week, and has dropped 17% and 19% respectively each of the past two weeks.

“As inpatient hospitalizations appear to be declining, my sense is people could become complacent, and take a wait and see approach.,” Levine said.

Wykoff concurred.

“When the number of people hospitalized in the Ballad Health system started to increase in early July, we appropriately saw the number of people getting vaccinated increase as well,” Wykoff said. 

“When the Ballad numbers started to come down in early September, we saw a downward trend in vaccinations. When it comes to COVID-19 vaccinations, local events drive local action. 

The region’s seven-day rolling average of new cases peaked Sept. 11 and has generally declined steadily since then, though it still remains far above the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) “red zone,” and well above the national average.

Ballad’s total COVID hospitalizations peaked Sept. 8 at 413. It has also declined since and reached its lowest point since Aug. 25 Monday, at 287.

The 81 COVID ICU patients was the lowest total since Sept. 3, and the 61 total on ventilators was also the lowest since Sept. 3.

But those numbers still dwarf the totals of just two months ago, as Ballad reported 120 total COVID patients, 33 in ICU and 17 on ventilators on Aug. 4.

“Our job is to keep educating people on the benefit of the vaccine, which we will continue to do,” Levine said.

 The only lower weekly totals than last week’s came in late June and early July – 1,632 the week ending July 2 and 1,476 the week ending July 9.

As of Friday, 44.7% of Northeast Tennesseans are fully vaccinated. That compares to 46.3% statewide and 55.7% nationally. The rate is 42.0% in Southwest Virginia and 60.5% in Virginia statewide.

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