Buchanan says vaccines are contributing to lower case counts, encourages more people to get the shot

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — COVID-19 is still very present in our region, regardless of whether it’s deemed an emergency by state leaders.

That was Knox County Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan’s response to questions about the public health changes at the state and county level last week.

We still have new cases. We still have hospitalizations and we still have people dying from COVID […] Regardless of what you call it, it’s still a very real, and very active in our community.”

Dr. Martha Buchanan, Knox County Health Department Director

Buchanan urged the public to continue following the five core actions, even if they’re no longer mandated. While it will take a couple of weeks to see any impact of lifting the mask mandate on case numbers, she said current numbers are much better than they were a month ago. She credited that to the growing percentage of vaccinated people in the county.

She’s hopeful herd immunity is possible and even says we’re already seeing it in action locally. She cited a scenario in which “person A gets COVID. They expose person B. Person B is either partially vaccinated, or maybe they had the disease. They don’t get sick. So, they don’t pass it onto somebody else,” Buchanan said. She believes it’s contributing to our lower case counts, but noted a need for more people getting the shot.

Buchanan thinks there are multiple reasons for vaccine hesitancy. Some, she feels, haven’t found the time to get it. KCHS and several community partners are working on ways to make access to the vaccine easier and more timely.

Another group, she noted, may have lingering concerns or questions. She recommends they reach out to a primary care provider, a relative or friend in the medical field, refer to the CDC website, or call the Knox County Health Department.

COVID vaccines have proven themselves to be very effective and very safe.”

Dr. Martha Buchanan, Knox County Health Department Director

We asked about the precautions fully vaccinated people should taking in public and at gatherings and why fully vaccinated people are still encouraged to follow health guidelines.

“You don’t know the vaccination status of all the other people around you,” she said. “There is some concern, and we need more data to see that this is not going to happen, that even fully vaccinated folks, they get exposed to COVID, they get a very mild case of COVID, then they could pass it onto that unvaccinated person who doesn’t have any protection and they could get really sick. Or maybe they get a little bit sick, but they care for their elderly parent and they’re going to take it home and make their elderly parent really sick.”

Until the data is definitive, it’s essentially better safe than sorry.

The current recommendation from the CDC is that if you’re fully vaccinated if you’re going to gather with people from multiple households that are not all fully vaccinated, everybody needs to keep their mask on and social distance. You can gather with one other household that’s not fully vaccinated, as long as they don’t also have somebody they take care of, or they work in a place with, people who are high risk.”

Dr. Martha Buchanan, Knox County Health Department Director

We also asked about those who battled COVID-19 and whether they should wait to be vaccinated. Buchanan said there is no longer a recommendation to wait for the shot, now that vaccine is widely available.

“That 90-day recommendation was really when we didn’t have enough vaccine, that was to say wait, you have some immunity, at least for 90 days, maybe longer…so wait to get your vaccine so those who don’t have immunity can get vaccinated. Now that we have plenty of vaccines, they can get vaccinated whenever they choose to,” she added.

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