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Tallahassee Doctors Say Getting Vaccinated Could Save Lives Including Your Own

A person wearing a face shield and mask administers a vaccine to a person wearing a brown shirt.
Steven Cornfield
Doctors say while there's a chance a vaccinated person can get infected by the coronavirus, getting a vaccine greatly reduces the risk of the virus becoming severe or life threatening.

Local doctors are urging more people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Officials say COVID-19 hospitalization rates in Tallahassee are higher now than they have been in about 8 months.

“Everybody has the right to choose, but there are sick people in our hospital right now who regret not getting the vaccine."
Dr. Trey Blake

Dr. Dean Watson is Vice President and Chief Integration Officer at Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare. He says 30 coronavirus patients are currently being treated at TMH.

“Which is significant, and even more importantly, 29 of those patients are unvaccinated, which is the most important point. The majority of these could have been prevented,” Watson says.

Watson says most of the COVID-19 patients he talks to are unvaccinated by choice.

“We ask every single person that enters the hospital, and these are by choice and that’s unfortunate,” Watson says. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there. There’s a lot of myths, that are being continued from individual to individual. We really need to be focusing on facts. These vaccines work. They’re not dangerous. They’re beneficial. They’ve been studied extensively and again over 180-million people in the United States of America have received at least one shot.”

Dr. Trey Blake is the Chief Medical Officer at Capital Regional Medical Center. He says as of last week, his hospital was treating 25 COVID-19 patients. Most of them were unvaccinated.

“Everybody has the right to choose, but there are sick people in our hospital right now who regret not getting the vaccine,” Blake says.

Blake says if someone has a concern about getting vaccinated or has heard a myth that makes them feel worried, the best thing to do is to talk to a doctor.

“There can be a lot of news out there they can look at, but truly the providers are the individuals they should seek that guidance from,” Blake says.

Do 'breakthrough' cases mean the vaccine isn't working?

One reason some people give for not getting vaccinated is a concern that the vaccines don’t work. Some people who have been vaccinated have still been infected by the coronavirus in what are being called “breakthrough” cases. Blake says while he understands that could seem worrisome, that doesn’t mean the vaccine isn’t working. He says with almost any vaccine, sometimes people get sick even after they get their shot.

“The way vaccines work, there is not a 100% guarantee that you cannot catch the disease. So, there are always breakthrough cases. But you are right, when somebody catches a breakthrough case, the vaccine still provides a huge benefit to decrease the risk of whatever that illness is becoming severe or life-threatening,” Blake says.

Blake maintains if a person does get sick, having been vaccinated significantly improves their outcome.

“If you are fully vaccinated and with a normal immune system, the chance of you getting into the hospital is greatly decreased. The chance of death is also very rare.”
Dr. Trey Blake

For proof of that Blake points to the area’s senior population. He says before the vaccine, the people who were most likely to be hospitalized because of the coronavirus were people aged 65 and older. But he says Leon County did a great job of vaccinating people in that age group. Now the people who end up in the hospital for COVID-19 are skewing younger.

COVID-19 patients in the hospital are now largely unvaccinated and trending younger.

“The average age of the COVID inpatient has dropped down into the 40s and 50s as our elderly population is protected and not needing to be hospitalized,” Blake says.

At TMH, Dr. Watson says some of the COVID patients he’s seeing are people in their 20s. He says nobody should assume that they won’t be affected by the virus.

“Everyone believes ‘well it’s not going to be me. It’s not going to impact me.’ Well, it is. It’s going to impact you. It’s going to impact your family,” Watson says.

Watson says unvaccinated people are also impacting the community by stretching Leon County’s healthcare resources thin.

“They’re filling all of our beds with general COVID care. We’re shutting down procedures. This is how it affects you all. We can’t do our procedures on the heart. We can’t do valve replacements. We can’t do surgeries that are elective. And just run down the list. So, if you’re scheduled for a procedure this week or next week or the following week, it may be delayed for months.”

"We’re tired. We’re frustrated. We’re sad. We’re sad to see people dying that could have been saved."
Dr. Dean Watson

While he strongly supports a person’s right to choose, Watson also thinks it’s important to consider what he calls “personal responsibility.” He urges people to remember that things are not back to normal, and he says they won’t be until more people are vaccinated. As a medical professional, Watson says it makes him sad to see the consequences of the decisions some people are making.

“Everything is normal as you’re driving up Thomasville Road, or wherever you’re driving. But it’s not normal in the hospital. It’s not normal when we’re taking care of people that are sick and dying. And we have a very skewed view on that. So, again we’re tired. We’re frustrated. We’re sad. We’re sad to see people dying that could have been saved. We’re sad to see people who have what they call long COVID…It just makes us sad,” Watson says.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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