JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – After a robust month of new vaccinations in August, Northeast Tennessee hasn’t maintained that momentum so far this month.
New vaccinations are averaging 462 a day across the seven-county region through the first 20 days of the month — a decline of 33 percent compared to the 688 new jabs a day averaged in August.
It’s not a good time for those numbers to be softening, East Tennessee State University College of Public Health Dean Dr. Randy Wykoff said. With 48.4% of the population fully vaccinated, the region is a full 15% behind the national rate of 63.9%.
“I understand early on that there were some folks who had some understandable concerns about not getting vaccinated and that’s perfectly reasonable,” Wykoff said.
“But I think now is the time for folks to be honest with themselves and say, ‘are my reasons for not getting vaccinated worth the risk to my own health, the health of my family, the health of my neighbors, the health of city and my state.’ So hopefully folks will reconsider.”
Larger numbers of people had been reconsidering until a couple weeks ago.
New weekly vaccinations across the seven-county region climbed steeply starting in late July after bottoming out at 1,476 the week ending July 9.
The weekly total had risen to 2,925 by the week ending July 30, which was in the neighborhood of averages the first three weeks of June.
Then the lid seemed to come off of people’s willingness to get the shot, just as news of quickly rising cases due to the delta variant became widespread.
For five straight weeks starting the week ending Aug. 6, vaccinations averaged more than 4,800 and never fell below 4,443. The week ending Sept. 3 saw the second-highest of those totals, with 4,946 new vaccinations.
That five-week stretch featured the highest new vaccination rates since April, when the shot was first becoming available to all adults.
Then just as quickly as the number had shot up, it fell back down, dropping to 3,019 the week ending Sept. 10. And the week through last Friday suggested that was not just a Labor Day-related anomaly, as it came in at 2,935.
The past three days have seen a continuation of the lower numbers.
Wykoff said the consequences of what public health experts call “undervaccinated” areas are becoming clear — generally higher case, hospitalization and death totals than in areas with higher vaccination percentages.
He said that’s having a severe impact in the region right now.
“I just hope folks who have made a decision early on not to get vaccinated will honestly reconsider that based on the information … and the risk that it poses to our region,” Wykoff said.
He pointed to the number of hospitalized COVID patients in the Ballad Health system.
“Close to 400, 100-plus in the ICU, almost that many intubated. This is a really serious disease and there are a lot of people that are dying not just here but around the state and around the country.”