Health care professionals implored San Joaquin County residents to get vaccinated to protect themselves and others against the COVID-19 virus.

During a joint press conference on Sept. 2, hosted by San Joaquin County Public Health Services and the City of Stockton at the Stribley Community Center, doctors discussed the latest data on vaccinations and testing, and also the best practices for confronting the COVID-19 virus as cases increase in the wake of the Delta variant.

Stockton Mayor Kevin Lincoln cited the toll the virus has taken on Stockton residents.

“We’re not yet out of this pandemic, and we must continue to stay educated on the facts surrounding this virus and use a data-driven approach to guide each and every one of our responses,” Lincoln said.

Dr. Maggie Park, San Joaquin County Public Health officer, said the county is seeing a spike in cases that started in July when the Delta variant became the predominant strain of the coronavirus.

“While other areas of the state might be starting to see their numbers stabilize, we continue to see rising case rates and hospitalizations here in Stockton and countywide,” Park said.

The current daily number of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases and the number of people admitted to hospitals have surpassed the numbers the county had during the surge of summer 2020.

“We knew this surge might be as bad as last summer’s, but we’ve passed last summer’s numbers and still haven’t reached the peak of this current surge,” Park said.

More than half of the county’s ICU beds are currently occupied with COIVD patients. At the time of the press conference, the county’s ICU bed capacity was at 136% and ICU bed availability had fallen below 10% for the San Joaquin Valley region.

Park said one of the trends in the latest surge is the rate of infection among school-age children as well as children age 4 and under.

“This is all the more reason for parents and caregivers of young children to get vaccinated. Vaccinating anyone eligible in a household 12-years-of-age or older adds protection to those who are younger or immunocompromised in the home.”

She added that the future contains a lot of unknowns when it comes to COVID.

“We can reflect on what has happened and look at what we’re currently seeing a precursor to what we might expect,” Park said. “We believe that COVID will become endemic, that we will not eradicate it but like the seasonal flu we’ll learn to manage it, eventually resuming our pre-COVID lives.”

She said the Delta variant accounted for 95% of the cases in July and all of the sequenced cases in August, and serves as a reminder that the virus will continue to mutate.

“Remember, we are in a race against variance. We are already looking at the need to give boosters to vaccinated individuals and planning now to make sure people get that added protection.”

She that community cooperation and healthy practices adopted at the start of the pandemic last year still apply.

“Let’s continue to care for one another by masking, washing our hands, getting tested and staying home when sick and by getting vaccinated,” Park said.

Dr. Steven Millar, a pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente, said that the vaccines will be a critical step in bringing the pandemic to an end and returning a sense of normalcy to the community.

“Certainly, individually we want to be vaccinated, and I want to see you vaccinated so that you are healthy so that you don’t suffer, so that you feel well and certainly each of us has that desire,” Millar said.

He echoed Park’s observation that more children than ever are affected by this latest surge of infections.

“To the degree that parents and caregivers and friends and family members are able to protect themselves with the vaccine when they are eligible, it provides protection for the kids that we see and interact with each and every day,” Millar said.

He said the vaccine also protects people that may have unseen illnesses that make them vulnerable to the most significant effects from COVID-19.

Millar stressed that the vaccines are safe

“This vaccine has been given over 360 million doses as of Monday nationwide so there’s a tremendous amount of data that we have that proves its efficacy as well as its safety,” Millar said. “We understand that many individuals will get some side effects out, especially after the second dose — fever, fatigue, joint pains. We also know that many of those side effects indicate that your own immune system is actually working as it should to develop antibodies to provide you long-term protection so that you don’t suffer the ill effects of COVID moving forward.”

Dr. Scott Neeley with Dignity Health said the Delta variant is many more times infectious than the original virus strain that struck 18 months ago.

“It is spreading faster, it is infecting younger patients and it’s causing very severe disease in these patients. Once again our hospitals are full, our ICUs are over capacity and we’re taking care of critically ill patients in non-ICU areas due to our sure conditions,” Neeley said. “Our doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists and other caregivers are working under tremendous strain both to take care of the very large number of severely ill COVID patients and also to care for other patients who need urgent care.”

Neely said the deaths, severe illness and the surge could have prevented if more people had received the vaccine.

“While the Delta strain of COVID is causing more infections in vaccinated individuals the vaccine continues to limit the duration of illness and the duration of virus shedding and thus still has utility in slowing the spread of the disease,” Neeley said. “More importantly the vaccine is highly effective in preventing severe disease and hospitalization.”

He said current estimates show that being fully vaccinated reduces the risk of both severe disease and hospitalization by nearly 97% and probably represents nearly complete elimination of risk of severe disease in people with normal immune systems.

“There are not two sets of facts about this disease and the vaccine. There is only the constantly evolving body of scientific and clinical data that comes from valid research,” Neeley said. “This work has established that adverse events associated with the vaccine are very rare and that it is much safer to receive a vaccine than to develop COVID. Period.”

• Contact the Tracy Press at tpnews@tracypress.com or 835-3030.

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