While Pfizer COVID-19 booster vaccines are now available to eligible residents across Bulloch County, the focus of local, state and national officials remains on convincing unvaccinated citizens to get the shot.
The vaccine effort continues to lag in Bulloch, with all seven of the contiguous counties having higher vaccine rates for both people who have received at least one shot and those fully vaccinated. The county experienced an uptick in people getting vaccinated following the onset of the latest COVID surge in July, as the vaccine rate for one shot jumped from 29% on July 27 to 36% on Sept. 3.
The numbers, however, started dropping about four weeks ago and the Georgia Department of Public Health reported that only five Bulloch residents received their first shot on Tuesday – the lowest number for a non-Sunday single day since vaccinations started being given locally in January.
Across the area, only Bulloch and Jenkins County are below 40% for people getting at least one shot. Bulloch is at 37%, while Jenkins is at 38%. Bryan County has a 50% one-dose rate, followed by Screven County at 50%. Also, Bulloch and Jenkins are the only area counties under 35% fully vaccinated, sitting at 32% and 33%, respectively.
Ted Wynn, director of the Bulloch Public Safety/Emergency Management Agency, continues to urge residents who have not been vaccinated to reconsider and get a shot.
“I would encourage people who are worried about getting a vaccine, to speak with a trusted friend, family member, pastor who has had the vaccine,” he said. “Have a conversation about their concerns and share with them why you decided to get the vaccine.”
Like Bulloch, the average daily count of Americans getting a first dose of vaccine has been falling for six weeks, plummeting more than 50% from about 480,000 in early August to under 230,000 by the middle of last week, according to the most recently available federal data.
An estimated 70 million vaccine-eligible Americans have yet to start vaccinations, despite a summer surge in infections, hospitalizations and deaths driven by the delta variant.
Experts have long said the key to ending the U.S. epidemic is vaccinating the vast majority of the American public — perhaps as much as 90%. But of the more than 283 million Americans age 12 and older who are eligible for shots, only about 65% — 184 million — are fully vaccinated, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Children under 12 are not yet eligible to get vaccinated, meaning only about 55% of the U.S. public is fully protected.
Local vaccine booster shots
Americans who took the Pfizer vaccine and are 65 and older and others vulnerable because of underlying health problems are eligible for a booster – once they're six months past their last dose.
The Georgia Department of Health advised anyone who meets the eligibility guidelines and has received the Pfizer vaccine to check with their doctor or local pharmacy to make an appointment to get a booster.
Len McCook, co-owner of McCook’s Pharmacy in Statesboro, said the pharmacy purchased the specialty freezer needed to store the Pfizer vaccine at 75 degrees below zero.
“We are seeing a steady amount of people seeking booster shots, but not overwhelming,” he said. “Due to how the Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored, most people in our area received the Moderna vaccine in the spring, so we have a smaller Pfizer pool. A lot of people are ready for the Moderna booster. We’ve just got to wait until it’s approved.”
Decisions from the FDA and CDC on boosters for Americans who received Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still to come.
Bulloch County reported 32 new confirmed cases of coronavirus since Monday, bringing the total number of cases to 7,840 since the pandemic began. The Department of Health also reported two probable deaths of local residents since Monday.
Wynn said East Georgia Regional Medical Center had 26 patients hospitalized with COVID on Wednesday, with 12 on ventilators.
In Georgia, there were 3,367 new COVID cases reported Wednesday, and 2,421 reported Tuesday. There were 129 confirmed deaths on Wednesday and 107 on Tuesday. Since the pandemic began, 22,354 Georgia residents have died due to COVID
The Associated Press contributed to this report.