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COVID variant increases need for vaccination

The growth of a new variant of COVID-19 has local health experts encouraging area residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

A new “Delta Variant” of the COVID-19 coronavirus — a 60 percent more contagious version rooted in the United Kingdom — is taking foot in the United States according to Barbara Hemmendinger, a member of both Lycoming County Health Improvement Coalition and Williamsport’s “Let’s End COVID.”

“Just today, Boris Johnson is talking about delaying the reopening of the U.K. because most scientists say this variant is 60 percent more contagious than the previous variant in the U.K.,” Hemmendinger said.

The Delta Variant makes up 6-10 percent of all cases studied in the United States, according to Hemmendinger.

“It’s beginning to get a foothold here, and that’s another reason people who are unvaccinated should get vaccinated,” Hemmendinger said.

According to Hemmendinger, individuals need to ensure they receive the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine to be completely inoculated.

Hemmendinger said the Delta Variant is not more deadly; simply more contagious among those who have not received the vaccination. Those who are fully inoculated should be protected against the Delta Variant.

“The rates are falling among the vaccinated, and it is falling because the virus does not have enough people to transmit from, and we have an immune response that disables the virus’ ability to infect us,” Hemmendinger said.

In other news, Hemmendinger explained the United States will be donating 500 million doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to low and middle-income countries through the International COVAX Program over the course of the next year–without strings attached.

“Part of it is being a humanitarian leader to help countries,” Hemmendinger said. “It’s also self-serving because of how globally connected we are. We have seen that all it takes is one or two travelers from a place that is largely unvaccinated to bring a variant here to help.”

It is not as if the United States is giving away vaccines that are needed domestically, according to Hemmendinger; the United States has stockpiled enough vaccines to immunize every eligible American.

Hemendinger also discussed the Food and Drug Association’s extension of the shelf life of Johnson & Johnson shots for an additional six weeks, as studies have found that vaccine can be useable for 4.5 months when refrigerator at longer temperatures.

“Johnson & Johnson is single-dose, and doesn’t have the refrigerator requirements at freezing temperatures. It can be transported to more remote areas and taken to people in those areas much more readily,” Hemmendinger said.

Finally, Hemendinger said last week, the “Let’s End COVID” group met with the Clinton County Commissioners and the Lycoming County commissioners.

“(They) were interested in mounting a campaign similar to the one we’re doing locally,” Hemmendinger said.

Hemmendinger described the efforts of “Let’s End COVID” to provide more information and encourage residents to have information that will help them get vaccinated.

“There’s great cooperation,” Hemmendinger said. “As you know, the virus does not respect artificial boundaries or jurisdictions between different areas.”

As of Monday, while Pennsylvania’s 46 percent vaccination rate is ahead of the national average of 43.7 percent, Lycoming County lags behind both at having 37.7 percent of its population vaccinated.

Clinton County is behind that at 31.5 percent, while Union County is ahead of Lycoming County with 41.7 percent of its population vaccinated.

As of Monday afternoon, 64.5 percent of adults in the United States have received at least one dose of any COVID-19 vaccine–several million needing to receive the shot for the country to reach President Joe Biden’s goal of having 70 percent of the adult population receive one dose by July 4.

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