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As ARH healthcare officials continue to vaccinate individuals in phase 1A and phase 1B, they are actively planning to move into the next phase of vaccinations and are encouraging people to schedule vaccinations when possible.

Several local healthcare providers, including Hazard ARH, the Kentucky River District Health Department and Primary Care Center of Eastern Kentucky, have been distributing COVID-19 vaccinations to individuals in phase 1A and/or phase 1B. As cases continue to rise, local healthcare officials said they are preparing to move into the next phase of vaccinations and are hoping to encourage more people to participate when they are able.

Maria Braman, the chief medical officer of the Hazard ARH Medical Center, said that reaching herd immunity via vaccinations will be vital in slowing down the spread of COVID-19, as well as speeding up the process of a return to normalcy.

“(With herd immunity) you get to a point in the population where about 80 to 85 percent of people are immune to the virus and that prevents spread, so that prevents people from getting sick and allows us to open up and get back to life the way we knew it,” said Braman.

“There are a couple ways you can get herd immunity. One, you can wait for everyone to get the virus, but that takes time and we lose lives. We’ve been losing lives, so that’s obviously not the ideal way to do it. The other way you can achieve herd immunity is with a vaccination. We now have a vaccine for COVID-19,” Braman said. “In the two weeks that we’ve had it, we’ve now delivered 3,000, actually over 3,000 if you include our West Virginia hospitals, but in Kentucky we’ve delivered 3,000 vaccines here in Eastern Kentucky.”

Braman said Perry County has received enough vaccines to vaccinate all of their healthcare workers and first responders, however, less than half of them chose to get vaccinated.

“This week we’ve pretty much vaccinated all the healthcare workers and EMTs that want to be vaccinated. I wish more had taken the opportunity,” said Braman.

She continued, explaining that less than 50 percent of healthcare officials and first responders chose to be vaccinated at this time.

“I am disappointed that we are under 50 percent, we’re at about 45 percent of folks who have agreed to get vaccinated. We hope as people see those of us who have got vaccinated didn’t grow a third arm or unicorn (horn) they’ll feel more comfortable getting vaccinated. We really hope those numbers go up,” said Braman, adding that she knows many people have concerns about the vaccine.  

Due to the low number of people being vaccinated and the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the area, Braman said the community is still recommended to follow all the safety guidelines such as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.

“Herd immunity, that’s 80-85 percent. Only 40-45 percent of healthcare workers have decided to take the vaccine, so we’re not in a position to be anywhere close to herd immunity,” said Braman, “That means COVID is still here and it’s present and it can spread. We’re still going to have to mask, we’re still going to keep all those things in place until we can somehow convince the other 40 percent of people to get vaccinated.”

This week, she said, ARH hopes to start vaccinating the next phase.

“We are getting permission to move on to the next phase so we will be able to start getting in people who are over 70, other high-risk people,” said Braman. “I think once we move through the elderly population then the next thing is all of our frontline workers, that includes all of our essential workers.”

Once the vaccine is widely available, Braman said, she recommends individuals to get vaccinated when they can. There is currently no cost to be vaccinated, said Braman.

“Right now we are very fortunate this is being covered by our federal government so there is no cost,” she said.

On Jan. 12, officials with the Kentucky River District Health Department said that all seven counties in the KRDHD service area are considered critical at this time. Red zone reduction recommendations for the KRDHD counties include: employers should allow employees to work from home when possible; non-critical government offices should operate virtually; reduce in-person shopping, order online or use curbside pick-up instead; avoid dining in restaurants and bars, order take-out instead; prioritize businesses that follow and enforce mask mandate and other guidelines; reschedule, postpone or cancel public or private events; do not host or attend gatherings of any size; avoid non-essential activities outside of your home; and reduce overall activity and contacts, and follow existing guidance to defeat COVID-19.

As of Jan. 11, Perry County has had 1,744 total cases with 17 COVID-19 related deaths, and has a current incidence rate of 59.3. For more information, call, (800) 722-5725, or visit, www.kycovid19.ky.gov.

To schedule an appointment for COVID-19 vaccinations at ARH, call, 1-855-274-2273, or visit, www.ARHcovid19.com.