Registration for vaccinations against the coronavirus opened to all Delaware residents 16 and older this week, good news that prompted Gov. John Carney, at his press briefing and Town Hall meeting, to urge registering on the vaccinerequest.delaware.gov site. Anyone without Internet access can call 833-643-1715.
“The most important thing is, sign up for the waiting list and you can get access to appointments that the Division of Public Health is making available across our state,” Carney said at the Tuesday, April 6, virtual Town Hall meeting.
But while being vaccinated offers protection against severe illness and death, it doesn’t mean vaccine recipients can’t contract COVID-19 or spread it, so all precautions in place for the past year must continue, he said.
“Wear a mask and be careful. The most important protective measure people can take is to wear a mask. The science is pretty clear on that. Transmission through those respiratory particles – when you talk, when you cough, when you sing, whatever – that is how people will catch the virus,” he said.
With Carney at the Town Hall meeting were Dr. Rick Hong, medical director of the Delaware Division of Public Health, and Darryl Chambers, program director of the Community Intervention Team.
Replying to a question submitted by a Delaware resident, Hong repeated vaccines are “not 100 percent.”
“You could still get infected or you could be a carrier and pass it on to others. We don’t want that false sense of security to lead to more cases ... The numbers are creeping up again. The vaccine by itself is not a reason to throw everything out the door, everything we worked so hard to get,” he said.
This week, areas of concern in Delaware increased and include Millville, Dagsboro, Frankford, Felton, Dover, Newark, Clayton, Camden, Bear, Middletown, Wilmington and New Castle.
Cases of variant viruses rose, too, but Hong said the vaccine offers protection against them. Asked how much protection is offered after the first shot, Hong said it varies from 50 to 80 percent after one to two weeks. Following the second dose, efficacy jumps to more than 90 percent.
“All of the vaccines are effective against death, serious disease, hospitalization, so we are encouraging people to get the first vaccine they are offered ... all of the vaccines are equally effective,” the governor said.
Asked how those who got the first dose at a mass vaccination event like the one at Dover International Speedway can be sure they can get the second dose, Hong said they can assume there will be another mass vaccination. Those who provided contact information will receive a text or another type of reminder.
Carney said governors participating in a recent joint telephone call with White House staff, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, learned states have to see improving conditions before restrictions can be lifted. Carney said he was considering loosening restrictions but will now wait until there are fewer hospitalizations and positive cases of the virus. At mid-week, there were 322 new cases of the coronavirus and 140 hospitalizations. Carney warned not to become complacent because of the desire to socialize in crowds now that spring has arrived.
He also stressed continuing to get tested.
“We still need to test. Lots of people are still getting tested. The bad news is the number of positive cases, as you can see, is over 300, when a couple weeks ago it was less than 200. We want those measures to go the other way ... At the same time, we’re pushing out over 60,000 vaccines a week. That should help as well, but it doesn’t stop all transmission ... We’re getting to the summer season. Outdoors. Much less risk outdoors than indoors,” he said, adding if the numbers of cases decreases, “We’ll be able to open up more than we are today.”
Asked about vaccinations for those 16 or 17, Hong said they must receive the Pfizer vaccine. Studies are under way to determine if younger children can be vaccinated, “but right now that is not the case,” he said.
Carney asked if vaccinations will be given in school and Hong said there has been discussion, with the goal of having 16- and 17-year-old students vaccinated before this school year ends.
Replying to a question from a Delaware resident who called for a statewide clearinghouse to make it easier to make appointments, Carney said it “would be great, but we don’t have one.”
“It’s something, obviously, we need to think about post-pandemic,” he said, repeating the vaccinerequest.delaware.gov site is the best method for making appointments.
Asked about plans for the 2021-22 school year, Carney said the goal is to return to total in-person education. “Whether it’s realistic or not —we’ll see,” he said.
Getting children in school is one of his highest priorities, he said, but “the big question is, where are you going to be with respect with mitigation efforts? Wearing masks, kids are fine with wearing masks. They are better than adults ... the question gets to be distancing, in buses, in classrooms.
“We have about 80,000 students across our state that are doing some kind of inperson instruction. We need to get everybody back by September. We’ll follow the science,” he said.
Chambers said his Community Intervention Team members “meet the people where they are.”
“What we’re doing with our community partners is, we’re establishing some of these vaccination events but we’re also doing massive literature drops,” he said.
Residents of certain neighborhoods, including the most vulnerable, have to be educated about the process, he said, and that is being done with the help of community leaders and religious leaders.
“We also work with all levels of the government, from the state to the county to City Council. Everyone plays a valuable part. We’re also working with non-profits because we know they play a very valuable role in our community,” he said.
Chambers said he has been “working to get the word out” about precautions to take to protect against the virus and how to get tested and is providing information to the public so wise decisions are made about getting vaccinated.