Make a Difference --- Get Vaccinated for COVID-19 If You Are Eligible

Alabama is in crisis as we are experiencing rapidly increasing COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, and our healthcare systems are under stress with the highly transmissible Delta variant. I challenge every Alabamian to do their part in slowing the surge. This means each individual needs to take personal responsibility by caring for themselves and looking out for others in their community. Our most effective strategy is to strongly encourage COVID-19 vaccination for all eligible people.

Many COVID-19 cases we see are preventable with the safe, highly effective, and free vaccines we have available. Vaccines work with the immune system to fight the virus if exposed, and they can help prevent long-term side effects of the disease. Scientific facts about vaccines have been presented often, but too many people rely on misinformation or outlandish disinformation instead.

We are pleased that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given full approval to the Pfizer vaccine, now called Comirnaty®, for people age 16 and older. This vaccine was previously authorized for children ages 12 to 18, and other vaccine product approvals are expected soon. There is more safety data available on this vaccine than on any vaccine, medication, or medical device ever approved by the FDA in history, as the vaccine was given to 300 million people before approval.

COVID-19 cases have grown to more than 5,500 cases in the 5- to 17-year-old age group, yet the number of vaccinated adolescents in Alabama is only around 29 percent. The 2021-2022 school year has barely begun, but school districts in Alabama have already sent home thousands of students who have tested positive for COVID-19 or come into close contact with a person with the virus. Now that in-person classes are underway, there has been a 700 percent rise in childhood infections compared with this same week in 2020. Football games have been forfeited, schools have closed, and virtual learning has returned to many schools as a result.

Children need to have a physical presence in the classroom because we know how many harmful effects there can be in keeping them away—mentally, physically, emotionally, and socially. Getting children back in classrooms safely means that close contacts of people with COVID-19 should not be in the classroom setting and other prevention measures need to be taken.

What are parents to do to protect their children, Alabama’s most valuable resource? Discuss vaccination with your child’s medical provider to answer any questions you have. Fully vaccinated people are less likely to spread the virus that causes COVID-19, so getting all family members 12 and older vaccinated will help protect children, their younger siblings, and other people at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. On a positive note, more than half of schools in Alabama now have mask mandates. The science is clear that universal mask wearing in indoor public spaces is important for everyone to significantly reduce virus transmission.

In addition to wearing masks, parents should teach their children ways to prevent exposure by practicing good hygiene by covering coughs and sneezes, avoiding touching their face, washing hands often, and avoiding close contact with people who are sick. Parents should set a good example for their children by consistently following preventive measures themselves.

Protecting Alabamians is the goal of quarantining and isolating persons who have contagious diseases or may have been exposed to them. If you or your child has symptoms of COVID-19, get tested with a nasal test. If exposed to COVID-19 and without symptoms, wait at least 3-4 days after exposures before getting tested. After being tested, go home to self-isolate, and remain there until results are reported. Isolation/quarantine must be completed before going back to school or work.

In addition, everyone 6 months of age and older, with rare exceptions, is advised to get flu vaccine every season to reduce the risk of severe illness. Influenza and COVID-19 share the symptoms of fever, headache, sore throat, muscle aches, and fatigue, and getting a flu shot can prevent flu or lessen its severity. These similarities may make these illnesses harder to diagnose and treat appropriately. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 vaccines may be administered along with other vaccines in the same visit.

There is an urgency to act as Alabama has a net negative intensive care unit bed capacity, children increasingly have COVID-19, and some local coroners have requested morgue trailers. Most of the COVID-19 deaths are among the unvaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines are effective against both asymptomatic and symptomatic infection, severe disease, and death. You can, should, and must do your part and play a critical role in ending the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scott Harris, M.D.
State Health Officer

(September 2021)