A patient is suffering from aches and a fever and can’t seem to catch their breath. There is no other way to help them as they are placed on a ventilator.

That is the real situation faced by doctors every day who see people with COVID-19 come into emergency rooms across the country.

As the virus continues to affect people, and with Polk County considered a hot spot, a group of Redmond Regional physicians gathered at the Rockmart Theater on Tuesday, Sept. 21, for a community COVID-19 town hall.

The consensus was the sickest people they are seeing are those who are unvaccinated.

“It’s difficult to see patients who are scared, and dying, and it’s hard to tell people that they’re not getting better and there’s not much we can do,” said Dr. Tessa Gibson, a Redmond Regional internal medicine physician.

“We know that this area really has been a hot spot for COVID, and there’s just so much bad information out there. People are not trusting healthcare providers, and we are really here to care for the community. We want to see the community healthy.”

As of Friday, Sept. 24, 28 Polk County residents had died from COVID-19 in the month of September, more than any other month during the pandemic. Hospitalizations continued to rise as well.

“Our treatments can be a good thing to get once you’ve had COVID, but we’re still seeing people die despite how much effort we put into saving their lives when they get into the hospital,” said Dr. Megan White, a Redmond Regional internal medicine physician. “The best step that anyone has is prevention.”

While better than two months ago, vaccinations in Polk County are lagging behind the state and national average. The Georgia Department of Public Health reported Friday that 40% of residents are fully vaccinated, while 34% have received at least one dose.

Gibson explained to the small crowd gathered that the vaccines approved for emergency use, and now fully approved, by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration pose no bigger risk than taking chances of getting infected by the virus.

“At the beginning of this disease we knew very little. It’s been a year and a half and we know more, but again this virus is changing,” Gibson said. “There’s constant studies and new data available to us. And so things will change with time. But with all vaccines, there’s immune memory. And that’s the difference between just having the virus and getting the vaccine.”

The long history of research and investment into mRNA vaccines, which is what the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are, and the massive investment made by countries around the globe to find a COVID-19 vaccine helped develop vaccines quickly, according to Gibson.

“The Trump administration invested nearly $2 billion to manufacture and distribute a working vaccine so there was a lot of financial backing and hence, they were able to produce this at an accelerated rate,” she said.

Gibson said with more than 5.9 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines administered so far, there is plenty of data that shows it is very rare for any severe reactions to occur in people who get them.

“We were really concerned initially about anaphylactic reaction and that’s a severe allergic reaction where you get swelling or your blood pressure falls,” she said. “And with more people being vaccinated, we have more data on that and it’s really small. It’s only 2.5 to 4.7 events per million people.”

Gibson said other possible serious side effects are just as rare.

“I think the reason we’re all here is because we haven’t given up on anyone, whether you’ve been vaccinated or not. We want to help everyone get through this,” White said. “We encourage you to reach out to your healthcare community members, and really ask all the right questions related to your health, and do what it is that will be beneficial for you to keep yourself safe and healthy.”

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