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Vaccine hesitancy in Broward County contributes to COVID surge, officials say

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Lines were long again on Monday at the drive-thru coronavirus testing site at Mills Pond Park in Fort Lauderdale.

A mother who was waiting in line with her son said she and her husband are not going to get any of the vaccines available against COVID without the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval. She is a reminder that not everyone who is not vaccinated is a staunch anti-vaxxer.

Amid a public health emergency, the FDA authorized the emergency use of the two-dose vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, in December and the single-dose Johnson & Johnson in February. FDA approval is pending. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows 3 in 10 unvaccinated adults said they would be more likely to get vaccinated with full FDA approval.

“My husband has COVID,” she said. “He tested positive on the fourth ... until it’s approved, approved, I don’t want to mess with it.”

Officials at Broward County City Hall said on Monday they are worried that amid the higher transmissibility of the Delta variant time is of the essence. They believe vaccine hesitancy is also to blame for the new surge in cases and they are asking the public to do their part to get vaccinated and tested.

“This escalating pandemic is going to force people to do the right thing,” said Florida Sen. Perry E. Thurston Jr.

About 1.2 million people received the vaccine in Broward County from March 1, 2020, to Aug. 5, according to the Florida Department of Health. It’s unclear if any of these were related to vaccine tourism or if residents have received the vaccine in other counties. Without accounting for the variables, the data indicates about 72% of Broward County residents are vaccinated.

There is a lot that scientists have been trying to understand about COVID since it was first identified in late 2019, in Wuhan, China. Researchers are still trying to figure out with certainty if lasting population-level immunity against COVID is possible. And if so, they also need to find out what proportion of the population must be vaccinated to begin inducing it.

The medical community’s consensus worldwide is that vaccines are saving lives. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study on Friday showing unvaccinated people who have had COVID are more than twice as likely to be reinfected with the virus than people who were fully vaccinated after contracting the virus.

The CDC was also tracking vaccine breakthrough cases and concluded that even though vaccinated people are getting infected with the Delta variant the vaccine is still protecting people from severe symptoms. Florida House Rep. Chip LaMarca, a Republican who is seeking District 93 reelection, said the data on hospitalizations is clear.

“People need to get vaccinated ... 95% to 97% of the people that are showing up in the hospitals have not been vaccinated,” LaMarca said.

Broward added 12,590 new coronavirus cases from July 30 to Aug. 5. Florida recorded 175 new COVID deaths in the week of July 30 to Aug. 5. This raised the state’s official death toll to 39,695, including 3,079 deaths in Broward, according to the FDOH.

Broward County Mayor Steven Geller said he is concerned about the return of Broward County Public Schools students to classrooms Aug. 18 in this environment.

“Just in July, just at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, there were 240 cases that went to the pediatric emergency room,” Geller said.

There are dozens of sites offering coronavirus testing in Broward County and 11 sites providing free vaccines without an appointment.

These retailers are also providing free vaccines in Broward:

More about COVID

Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure to the coronavirus and these include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, a new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion, runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea. The list of emergency warning signs that would require emergency medical care includes trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, and blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds.

More about the vaccines

FILE - In this March 4, 2021 file photo, a vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine rests on a table. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Doctors agree about the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines because the benefits greatly outweigh the risks for most patients. In July, a long list of professional associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Physicians, expressed their support of vaccine mandates.

Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna: These are being studied for use in children ages 5-11. The possible side effects include chills, headache, pain, tiredness, and/or redness and swelling at the injection site. On rare occasions, the vaccine has appeared to trigger anaphylaxis, a severe reaction that is treatable with epinephrine. This is why people who have a history of severe allergies have to be monitored for 30 minutes after the shot. The FDA warns there is a “likely association” with reported cases of heart inflammation in young adults and, in most cases, gets better on its own without medical intervention.

Johnson & Johnson: The possible side effects include fatigue, fever headache, injection site pain, or myalgia (pain in a muscle or group of muscles), all of which generally resolve within a day or two. The FDA warns there were rare cases of the neurological disorder Guillain-Barré syndrome reported in a small number of vaccination recipients and an uncommon, but potentially serious, blood clotting disorder that occurred in a small number of recipients.

Source: Yale Medicine

Afternoon report

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About the Authors:

Andrew Perez is a South Florida native who joined the Local 10 News team in May 2014.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.