ST. LOUIS– Doctors from the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force hospitals all agree that getting vaccinated is the quickest way for things to get back to normal in our region. The doctors gathered today to discuss the current status of COVID and vaccinations in the area to help people understand what it will take to fully reopen the economy.
“The faster we get vaccinated, the faster we can get the pandemic under control,” said Dr. Alex Garza, head of the task force.
Dr. Garza said a recent poll from the Missouri Hospital Association shows that of the Missourians that are not vaccinated, only half of them plan to get the COVID vaccine.
“If that pans out, it is going to take us a while to reach that herd immunity and the virus will continue to spread and we will be dealing with this pandemic for a long time in the future,” explained Dr. Garza.
Dr. Garza said the rate at which people in the region are currently getting vaccinated coupled with the continued transmission of the COVID virus means it is too soon to loosen public health measures.
He said the UK variant is definitely in the area and it spreads more easily. The region is seeing a considerable drop in cases and hospitalizations but recently the numbers have plateaued.
“There is a temptation to let up on previous measures,” says Dr. Garza.
But he warned it is too soon to abandon those previous steps that have helped prevent the spread of the virus.
Dr. Garza explained if the health measures were reduced and the vaccination rate stayed the same there would be an increase in the spread of the virus.
Dr. Aamina Akhtar from Mercy said she and her colleagues are often asked when can things go back to normal. She said that is really a question for the entire community.
“The community has to help us do their part, get vaccinated and while we are vaccinating, maintain the social distancing and masking and so when the community is able to help us with those regards we will be able to answer that question back to them,” said Dr. Akhtar.
Several of the doctors on hand also explained the COVID patients they are seeing are younger than a year ago and have not had the vaccine.
One doctor said unvaccinated patients told her they feel their risk is low and are either waiting for the vaccine or think they are ok without it.
Dr. Garza stressed that the impact of COVID, even mild cases, can be quite impactful and last a long time. He and others agree the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks of the virus.
The panel was also asked about mask-wearing after receiving the vaccine. Dr. Akhtar explained there are still so many people who are unvaccinated. She said that coupled with the variants circulating in the area means people still need to abide by social distancing and mask-wearing.
Dr. Alex Garza, the Incident Commander for the Task Force will be joined by Dr. Clay Dunagan from BJC Healthcare, Dr. Aamina Akhtar from Mercy, and Diane Ray and Dr. Bill Campbell from St. Luke’s Hospital.