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Vaccine works even if you get sick, says expert

Even though vaccinated people can get COVID-19, vaccines are still highly effective at preventing serious illness, according to pulmonary and critical care doctor Kenneth Horlander, MD, who works at Emory at LaGrange and Wellstar West Georgia in LaGrange. Horlander also doesn’t think the CDC changed its mask guidelines prematurely.

“The vaccines are not working as well for the Delta and the Gamma variant for people getting mildly to moderately sick,” he said. “So fevers, flu-like symptoms… they’re more frequently getting that type of illness with the new variants. But [the vaccines] are still working extremely well for keeping people out of the hospital and especially for getting critically ill.”

Horlander said that from research he’s aware of, cases of the Gamma variant are concentrated in other countries.

Horlander cited a study showing that newer variants are causing vaccinated people to have higher viral loads, which means vaccinated people are becoming more likely to transmit COVID-19 to others, whether or not they have symptoms.

He said vaccinated people are still less likely to get sick or spread the virus regardless of the variant.

“The people who are in the hospital right now are almost 100 percent not vaccinated,” he said.

Horlander said he has some vaccinated patients with noticeable COVID-19 symptoms. In his experience, vaccinated patients with significant symptoms have tended to be immunosuppressed.

“And they’re basically lucky that they got the vaccine, because without it, they probably would have gotten extremely sick,” he said.

According to Horlander, the Delta variant makes people as sick as other variants.

“If 100 people caught Delta, and another 100 caught one of the other variants, pretty much the same percentage will get very sick,” he explained. “Right now, we would be in a huge mess if there was no vaccine … The hospital right now, I guarantee you, it would be overwhelmed. We would be having to turn people away. I think it would be so terrible because Delta’s so contagious and spreading so rapidly.”

Horlander said that because older people have gotten vaccinated, he’s tending to have younger COVID-19 patients than before.

“We have a lot of middle aged [patients] and even younger,” he said. “There’s even a 19-year-old.”

Former LaGrange College President Dan McAlexander is suffering from a mild case of COVID-19 even though he got both shots of the Pfizer vaccine. He said he has a cough and feels tired. The most unpleasant part of his illness may be that he doesn’t get to see family members who were coming to visit from Detroit.

“I had a little tickle in my throat … and our grandkids and daughter and her husband were coming to visit … they were going to spend a week with us, starting today,” he said.

McAlexander wished others would get vaccinated so COVID-19 wouldn’t spread so easily.

“So many of our fellow citizens do not feel a sense of civic duty to their fellow citizens to take the precautions they should,” he said.

McAlexander said he’s grateful he had the vaccine, saying he might have ended up hospitalized otherwise.

Troup County Sheriff James Woodruff received his first COVID-19 shot on Friday.

“Like a lot of Americans, I was scared to get the vaccine. I didn’t know what it was going to entail,” Woodruff said. “Me and a lot of my command staff had not received the vaccine. We had talked recently and decided that we were going to get it.”

Woodruff said he was inspired to get vaccinated after hearing that Horlander had said that unvaccinated COVID-19 patients were the worst off.

“I come into contact with a lot of people,” he said. “I think it’s in my best interest to try to get myself vaccinated for their safety.”

Woodruff and members of his command staff got vaccinated at the government center.

“I think as of today, when I was up there around lunch time, we had 20 or 21 county employees that had received the vaccination,” he said. “The goal for today had been 15, so I think we exceeded our goal.”

Woodruff said he was very proud of his command staff.

Also on Friday, the Georgia Department of Public Health published a press release saying that it’s more urgent than ever for Georgians 12 and over to get vaccinated.

“The COVID case rate in Georgia has increased 204 percent over the last 14-day period,” it said. “Yesterday, new cases totaled 4,612 – the highest daily number since mid-February. Hospitalizations have increased by about 50 percent  in the last 14 days, and deaths have increased by about 18 percent in the same period. Vaccination has stalled statewide and only 40 percent of Georgians are fully vaccinated.”

The CDC estimates that the Delta variant causes 78 percent of new COVID-19 cases in Georgia, according to the press release. Compared to earlier strains, the Delta variant spreads more than twice as easily. Spreading cases and severe outcomes are happening most in areas with low vaccination rates.

Almost all hospitalizations and deaths caused by COVID-19 are among the unvaccinated.

The press release states that those who have received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine must get both doses to be fully protected.

“Individuals are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their final dose of vaccine,” the press release said.

In areas with substantial and high transmission, the CDC recommends that everyone, even if they’ve been fully vaccinated, wear a mask in public indoor settings.

“COVID vaccines are free and widely available statewide without insurance or identification,” the press release says. “To find a vaccination location or to schedule an appointment, visit https://dph.georgia.gov/covid-vaccine.”