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UPMC stresses vaccination; Lycoming County cases rise

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

UPMC professionals continue to urge individuals to mask, distance and vaccinate, especially with the ongoing concerns with the Delta, Delta Plus and future variants.

“We expect to see some evolution,” Graham Snyder, medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology, said during a news briefing. “We are facing a pandemic that will be with us for some time. … It will continue to evolve.”

Snyder said the virus could continue to mutate, creating more variants that could be potentially more contagious and could make individuals more sick, and that the pandemic could still be with us for years down the road.

Vaccines are said to continually be tested for efficacy against the variants. So far, all vaccines available are all effective against “all known variants.”

“We don’t expect them to provide perfect protection, but we cannot stress enough how safe they are,” Snyder said.

Vaccinations will continue to be a conversation amongst healthcare workers according to Snyder.

“We understand why people have chosen not to,” he said. “A lot of options are on the table.”

He added that while vaccines are not mandated at UPMC at the moment, the potential is still there for the future.

“Our job is to meet people where they are, build trust … dispel myths and make (vaccines) available,” Snyder added. “People who are vaccinated and people who are not vaccinated are not the same. We have to keep masking and distancing, because masking and distancing prevents transmission of the virus. Vaccine has an important part to play in preventing serious complications and it plays some part with transmission, too. It has to happen across the state, across the regions, across the nation and across the globe.”

In a recent Food and Drug Administration Emergency Use Authorization of the REGEN-COV post-exposure monoclonal antibody treatment, UPMC has been able to help COVID-19 exposed patients in both an in- and out-patient setting.

According to Erin McCreary, UPMC infectious diseases pharmacist, patients that are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated, have been exposed to COVID-19 and/or with high risk criteria like a compromised immune system, diabetes, heart disease, etc., are eligible for this treatment.

Across the system, other monoclonal antibody treatments have been used for those in pre-exposure like sotrovimab for those 12 and older who meet eligibility requirements.

Both treatments have been seen to help prevent serious illness according to the UPMC professionals.

UPMC has treated thousands with pre-exposure monoclonal antibodies and has treated 14 individuals with the post-exposure treatment, just two weeks after receiving the EUA.

McCreary set it straight — not every COVID-19 patient is treated the same; UPMC professionals focus on symptoms and the severity each individual patient is dealing with.

She stated that based on the epidemiology, UPMC professionals assume that most COVID-19 positive patients have the variant and begin effective treatment immediately.

“While this preventative therapy (monoclonal antibodies) are exciting and promising, vaccination is the most prominent way to protect yourself and your loved ones,” she said.

This message remains true when thinking about moving into the fall and winter.

Snyder expects there will be an increase in COVID-19 activity but does not expect positivity rates to be as “bad” as they were in the winter.

Barbara Hemmendinger, a retired family medicine educator and member of the Lycoming County Health Improvement Coalition, pointed out a disparity in the area’s own backyard: neighboring Union County, with a vaccination rate of 48%, lies in the moderate category of transmission, or, as having 10 to 49.9 new cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days.

Meanwhile, Lycoming County, with a vaccination rate of 42.5%, is slotted at a “substantial” rate of transmission, meaning it has had 50 to 99.99 new cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days.

Clinton County is defined as having a high rate of transmission of COVID-19 at greater than 100 new cases per 100,000 people in the past week. Incidentally, Clinton County has the lowest vaccination rate of the three, at 35.1%.

This data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demonstrate that in these three counties, the higher the vaccination rate in a given county, the lower the rate of transmission at this current moment.

“The fastest way to close this whole thing down is to get a lot of people immunized,” Hemmendinger said.

According to the CDC, the Delta Variant is highly contagious and is contributing to an increase in cases. The CDC says vaccinated people can still catch COVID-19, although they are far less likely to get severely sick or die as opposed to those who are unvaccinated.

Hemmendinger said there is currently not enough testing to help detect COVID-19 cases in their infancy–before they can spread.

“People might have some common cold symptoms or what they think are allergies, and inadvertently be highly contagious,” Hemmendinger said. “If they don’t realize it is COVID, they’re not quarantining or seeking medical care.”

Hemmendinger said individuals in the Williamsport community can schedule a free appointment to be tested for COVID-19 at any of the Rite Aids in Williamsport. River Valley Health and Dental Center also offers COVID-19 walk-in testing Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Additionally, UPMC Williamsport and MedExpress are able to test for COVID-19 with a physician’s referral.

River Valley Health and Dental Center will provide free COVID-19 vaccinations in Hepburn Plaza to celebrate Children’s Health Day Aug. 12 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Additionally, River Valley Health and Dental Center will host a free “Faxon” vaccine clinic in the parking lot near Qdoba on East Third Street on Saturday, Aug. 21, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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