With kids returning to school, cooler weather around the corner, and the Delta variant spreading rapidly, public health officials have a clear message: the best hope for the putting the pandemic behind us is for more people to get vaccinated.
Last Monday, the FDA granted full approval to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, which had been authorized only for emergency use, like the Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines.
“That’s important because it allows for more mandates from various organizations requiring the vaccine for their people,” Chatham Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson said last week. For instance, members of the U.S. military are now required to get vaccinated, when before they were only advised to do so.
“Hopefully it will convince some of the people who were on the fence about getting the vaccine,” Duncanson added.
Vaccination rates on Cape Cod are high, and rates in Massachusetts are the second highest in the nation. In Orleans, the per capita percentage of people who are fully vaccinated stands at an impressive 86 percent, with Chatham following at 81 percent. Harwich lags somewhat at 73 percent, with only 65 percent of people between the ages of 20 and 29 getting fully inoculated against COVID.
Gov. Charlie Baker, speaking at a vaccine clinic in Everett Monday, said more people are getting vaccinated each day.
“As a result, we have the second lowest hospitalization rate, on a per capita basis, in the country,” he said. The vaccines are currently approved for use only in people 12 and older, but Baker said he hopes the FDA will “move with urgency” to allow younger people to get the vaccine once it’s proven safe and effective.
Baker has mandated that certain state workers get the COVID-19 vaccine, and was asked Monday whether teachers should also be required to do so. That decision lies with local school districts, he said, but added that he hopes most communities eventually do so, “especially since teachers’ unions have expressed an interest in supporting vaccinations for everybody in a school building.”
What about public school students? Monomoy Superintendent of Schools Scott Carpenter said that, once children are approved to receive the vaccine, it is conceivable that they could be required to do so. But that decision will likely fall to the state, which could add it to the mandated vaccination list “just like measles, mumps and rubella,” he said. For the time being, the focus remains on encouraging steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19, like the use of masks (see related story, page 1).
Meanwhile, COVID case numbers continue to climb. As of early last week, Chatham had 15 cases, compared to just four cases last August.
“Most of those cases are related to the Delta variant, which we know is a lot more contagious than the base variant,” Duncanson said. Of those 15 cases, four were in fully vaccinated people, seven were in unvaccinated people or those with just one dose, and the rest had unknown vaccine status.
As of last week, Chatham’s 14-day percent positivity rate had risen from 1.13 to 2.47 percent; Harwich’s rate stood at 2.32, and Orleans was at 3.7 percent, higher than both the county and state averages. The figure represents the two-week average of the number of people testing positive from among all who received PCR COVID tests during that time period.
Since a large number of those who test positive locally had no symptoms or or only mild ones, testing continues to be a key tool for containing the virus. As of last week, Barnstable County resumed free drive-through COVID testing at the county fairgrounds in Falmouth, where people can receive a PCR test on Thursdays and Sundays from 4 to 6 p.m., with results available within 24 and 48 hours. Details are posted at www.BarnstableCountyHealth.org. Through Labor Day, free PCR testing is also available at the community center in Provincetown, at 2 Mayflower St., daily from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Email Alan Pollock at email@example.com