State data continues to show rural North Texas counties lag behind urban and suburban ones when it comes to COVID-19 vaccination rates.
Just outside of Dallas-Fort Worth, there are wide open spaces and strong opinions about the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We’re more the ‘see it for ourselves' and we’re very conservative in our beliefs,” said Marcie Chaney of Canton, in Van Zandt County, who has not been vaccinated. “I’m still on the fence. I can’t say that I won’t get it, but I’m not ready right now. I’m still unsure of the long-term effects.”
D.J. Berg of Alvarado in Johnson County is also unvaccinated.
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“I have not gotten it and I don’t plan on getting it and a big part of it is I don’t get sick very often,” Berg said. “And I don’t know, but I think I might have already had COVID.”
NBC 5 invited Chaney and Berg to share their questions and concerns with Dr. Mark Casanova, immediate past president of the Dallas County Medical Society.
“Why is [the vaccine] being pushed so heavily by the government but yet it’s not FDA approved,” Chaney asked.
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Casanova explained the FDA felt the initial 120,000 people who underwent vaccine trials showed the vaccine was effective enough to warrant emergency authorization.
“The delay, if you will, is the FDA’s process. We actually anticipate the full blessing for Pfizer probably in the very near future," Casanova said of the FDA's full approval.
As for the push to get more people vaccinated, Casanova said it’s “to try and get ahead of this virus and stop it in its track before we have something beyond delta.”
“How will we know that this vaccination will prevent every variant?" Chaney asked.
“The vaccine is holding against the delta variant,” Casanova said. “When I say, ‘Holding against the delta variant,’ it’s holding against severe infection that lands individuals in the hospital on oxygen.”
Yes, there are breakthrough infections, Casanova acknowledged.
The delta variant is believed to be more transmissible and reproduces at a higher rate than previous variants, according to the CDC.
Casanova said 97% of the patients he’s seen hospitalized recently were unvaccinated.
“We don’t know the long-term effect of it,” Chaney said.
“The data so far, and we’re approaching a year, are very clear and safe,” Casanova. said. “Historically, side effects or ill effects from vaccines tend to be clustered within the first six weeks or vaccinations.”
Casanova said this is different from potential long-term side effects from other medications, including those for blood pressure.
Chaney said she was also concerned about potential effects on underlying health conditions like myocarditis, which her daughter has. She is also hesitant to get her other daughter vaccinated because she is adopted, and her medical history is not fully known.
“Those are the important conversations that should be taking place with their doctor,” Casanova said.
“My understanding is, [the vaccine] doesn’t prevent you from getting [COVID-19], it just lessens the effects of the virus,” Berg said. “I just can’t see getting the vaccine for the sake of saying I got the vaccine.”
Casanova explained there has been a noticeable decline of older, vulnerable people becoming seriously ill from the virus because they have been inoculated in large numbers.
“Now who we are seeing, because we have vaccinations, we have protected many of those older, most vulnerable individuals, we’re seeing a whole bunch of DJs,” Casanova said.
The doctor went on the explain his concerns for those who contract the virus, survive but begin to experience long-term side effects.
“There’s long-haulers and there are what I call ‘COVID cripples.’ And we are seeing a significant number of these individuals," he said.
Casanova urged everyone to assess their own personal risk.
"What’s my risk of death?’ But expand it beyond that,” he said. “Can I continue to work? Can I provide for my family?”
Casanova thanked Berg for his service in the Marines and for serving others in a selfless manner.
“And that is sometimes the missing piece in the conversation about the COVID vaccine,” Casanova said. “Part of it is that same mantra of service for my fellow man, to attempt to halt me being a transmitter.”
Research suggests the delta variant not only spreads faster, but it can be passed on to up to eight other people.
“You know there’s the statistical change of it harming me. But I think what we’re missing sometimes is, 'We care about you, but it’s about all around you, right?'”
Data from Texas Health and Human Services shows several rural counties where the percentage of those 12 and older who are fully vaccinated stands at or less than 40% of the population in places like, Johnson County (39%), Van Zandt County (31%), Rains County (29.8%) and Erath County (30%).
Those figures are significantly lower than the percentages in more populated counties like Collin (62%), Dallas (54%) and Denton (56%).
“The rural counties do still have bed capacity, although they are filling up,” P resident of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council Stephen Love said.
Love detailed several hospitals and where they stand when it comes to available ICU beds. Cook and Erath counties had no ICU beds left as of Tuesday, Ellis County had no adult ICU beds and Parker County had one adult ICU bed.
“If their COVID patients needed ICU, they’d probably have to come to one of the larger metroplex counties,” Love said. “There does seem to be a correlation between people that are in the hospital, the number of cases and the vaccination rates.”
Love said he just spoke with an infectious disease physician who said one of two things will happen: either people get vaccinated or they will contract the highly contagious delta variant.
“So even in a rural area, with the delta variant, you are very much playing Russian roulette if you’re not vaccinated,” he said.
Love worries that unvaccinated individuals are exposing those who cannot receive the vaccine for medical reasons and those under 12 years of age to COVID-19.
“Our precious future, the children we love,” he said. “So if for any other reason, get vaccinated to protect them because the more adults that are vaccinated, the less this variant is going to spread to anyone.”
As for the perception some like Berg have that they may have contracted the virus, recovered and should be protected from contracting it again, Casanova had a message.
“We’ve seen some of those healthy folks hospitalized who said, 'I didn’t get the vaccine because I’m 98% sure I had it,'" he said. "We checked their antibodies, turns out it was really ‘The Crud’ that you had. It wasn’t COVID, so we don’t want folks walking around out there with a false sense of security.”