WESTFIELD PUBLIC HEALTH WEEKLY BULLETIN
By Juanita Carnes FNP, Board of Health chair
School is back in session. Parents, teachers, staff and students were hoping for a safer back-to-school environment this fall. The Health Department and School Committee have been preparing and hoping to keep everyone safe. The latest surge is showing no signs of lessening as the cases, deaths and hospitalizations are increasing. How do we keep our unvaccinated children in our community safe until they can get vaccinated?
It’s baffling to me that the vaccination rate in our city is woefully low. Are people choosing ignorance? Burying their heads in the sand? Feeling they are educated but actually educated with misinformation? Educate yourself with legitimate sources. This isn’t a decision that affects only you. It affects your family, friends, neighbors and everyone’s children. The answer to keeping our kids safe is for all the adults around them to be vaccinated. If you compare Massachusetts pediatric COVID cases with states with lower adult vaccination rates, it is clear Massachusetts kids are protected by the vaccinated adults. Some of the southern states have pediatric infection rates 10-12 percent higher. Israel’s infection rate for children decreased as adults were vaccinated. Unfortunately, our school children are not as protected as the rest of the state.
Massachusetts’ latest average rate of fully vaccinated citizens is 66 percent. Florida is at 53 percent, Alabama is at 38 percent. Arkansas is at 41 percent. Texas is at 47 percent. What does Westfield have in common with these states? Sadly, our vaccination rate. It is only 50 percent, and lower than all other contiguous communities. Having lived here most my life, I find it hard to believe that only half of our community is willing to save a life. Hampden County as a whole is only slightly higher at 52 percent.
All one has to do is turn on the television, radio or internet news sources to see the devastation in hospitals in Florida, Texas and other states with low vaccination rates. The unvaccinated are sick and dying at much higher rates than vaccinated. Hospitals are using offices, hallways and every space available for patients. ICU census is 100 percent. Secretaries are calling other hospitals looking for somewhere to send and admit patients. A 24-year-old man is seen on the news, on oxygen, breathlessly trying to tell the world to get vaccinated. Listen and share his message.
It is crucial that this community come together to save us from what is happening in unvaccinated states. We are smarter than that. We have great concern for our children. Every eligible individual needs to be vaccinated. Vaccinations work by helping our immune system fight infections in the future. Millions of people of different races and ethnicities have received the vaccine with only mild side effects. The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective. It is the best way to protect yourself and those around you.
In addition to vaccination, keep reminding students how important it is to wear masks, wash and sanitize hands, avoid touching one’s face and maintain social distancing. School has started. The adults in this community owe the children a safe and healthy education.
Take care of yourself and someone else.
Dedicated health department members have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic, as well as Board of Health members Juanita Carnes, FNP, Margaret Doody, and Stan Strzempko, M.D.
We keep working to keep you safe.