John Alarid, the pastor of Freedom City Church in Springfield, Missouri, and his wife, Hannah-Rose, said they were wary of the coronavirus vaccine because it had not been the subject of “long studies. term ”. But the couple received the first injection of the Pfizer vaccine last week, largely due to the recent spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in their city.
In a video on Facebook, both admitted to being disgusted with needles – the tattooed Alarid noting the irony as a former heroin user – but said “the risk is well worth it given that Covid takes a lot of lives “.
“It’s either the unknown possibilities or the current reality,” Alarid said on the phone Wednesday. “People are dying. Most people in hospital are not vaccinated so we decided that we had to be an example in our community. “
As the delta variant continues to spread rapidly across the United States, it appears that people who were once hesitant or skeptical of Covid vaccines in the Springfield area have increasingly reconsidered their decision. Springfield officials credit a new push to convince those hesitant to get vaccinated, as well as residents facing the harsh realities of the recent outbreak.
Springfield officials have appealed to religious leaders and community groups to encourage those who were undecided and doubtful, especially as vaccination rates have slowed in recent months and the number of infections has overtaken hospitals and clinics. neighboring counties.
In response, it appears that residents of the region are making the decision to get vaccinated in increasing numbers. In the first three weeks of July, residents of Greene County, where Springfield is the county seat, have already received more first-dose vaccines than they received throughout the month of June, according to the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Neighboring Christian County, another Covid hotspot, exceeded its June figures by nearly 30%.
“We almost ran out of vaccine about a week ago just because the increase we saw was not what we expected,” said Dr Matthew Stinson, vice president of medical and behavioral health services at the Jordan Valley Community Health Center, which has provided nearly 97,000 doses of the Covid vaccine to the region. “I think there is a growing fear of contracting Covid that goes beyond the fear of the vaccine. “
In an echo of the events of March 2020 and beyond, Springfield is once again facing closures and quarantines.
Alarid said one of the recovery homes run by his church has experienced a Covid outbreak in recent weeks, forcing residents to self-quarantine. On Tuesday, the church had to cancel its Festival of Hope for the second year in a row, having held it for the previous nine years. Alarid said on Wednesday that a convalescent home fundraising banquet that was slated for two weeks would now be held online, rather than in person as scheduled.
Those choices, along with her decision to get the vaccine and follow the advice of her church’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, led to reluctance from members of the congregation. Some people have left the church, and he said he had heard theories ranging from the vaccine containing alien blood to “mark of the beast.”
“I have received some pretty crazy and negative Facebook messages and emails, but we believe that taking care of the community means protecting the safety of our employees in every way,” said Alarid. “We are not only protecting people spiritually, but also mentally, emotionally and physically. We want to provide a safe environment. It’s just a shame that it has become politicized.
Doctors and other leaders in the area have said politicization has become one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome, but they also said the desire for the vaccine has increased as residents of Springfield and the surrounding areas saw family members and friends get sick.
In part, the renewed interest comes as regional hospitals are increasingly overwhelmed with coronavirus patients. Medical facilities are once again seeing their resources stretched to the breaking point, which has led many people to call for ventilators and support staff.
“We’re all exhausted,” said Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, an infectious disease physician at a veterans hospital in St. Louis and a member of the city’s board of health. “Even I started to believe that things were going to get better, that things were going to get better for me professionally and personally. Then delta came along, and it’s a punch.
Mercy Hospital Springfield announced on Wednesday it will open its third coronavirus ward as the number of Covid patients it treats reached 146 – more than half were under 60. Its maximum number of patients hospitalized during the winter wave was 113 on December 28. .
Dr William Sistrunk, an infectious disease physician at Mercy Hospital Springfield, said more than 90 percent of the strains they now report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are the delta variant, which he says is more contagious. and “more aggressive with respect to causing serious illness” in unvaccinated individuals.
“Everyone has to realize that this is not just another wave like the one we’ve seen before,” Sistrunk said. “It will require greater use of healthcare because we are seeing more patients going to intensive care or getting worse quickly. This is a much more aggressive strain that leads to more lung disease and increased oxygen requirements.
“It’s not just going to happen in Springfield: it’s happening for the whole nation; it happens in your community, ”Sistrunk warned. “We all have to prepare for this. “