Half of Chatham County’s first responders are getting vaccinated, according to Coastal Health District

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Confidence in the coronavirus vaccine is slowly growing, but the Coastal Health District said Thursday that 35-50 percent of the area’s first responders feel confident enough to get a dose.

At Savannah Fire Rescue, the local chapter of the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF Local 574) says 36 percent of firefighters have been vaccinated since first responders became eligible for the vaccine.

“For our department, being a young department, we’re one of the more healthy departments in the city, so for a lot of us — we’re not in those at-risk categories for severe complications,” said Vice President Johnny Hinton. He says it’s one of several reasons why he and so many other first responders in the union are opting-out of vaccination.

“These men and women go out every day and serve their community and I think it’s a testament really to just serving that community even more,” he explained.

Dr. Lawton Davis — the Health Director of the Coastal Health District — says there could be dire consequences for the entire community, if the first phase of vaccination does not go as planned.

“If we’re ever gong to return to any semblance of normalcy, as far as COVID, we really have to achieve herd immunity. And if only 50-55 percent of the people are taking the vaccine, it’ll be a really really long time,” said Dr. Davis.

At Savannah Police Department, a media representative says there are 480 sworn officers and even more employees. Of them, 200 have been scheduled to be vaccinated. And she says more are opting-in every day. Everyone has, at least, been offered a shot.

At Chatham County Police Department, though everyone there has also been offered the vaccine, 44 percent of staff members have signed up to be vaccinated.

At Chatham Emergency Services, the vaccine has been offered to everyone. But, 42 percent have been vaccinated so far.

At the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office, a representative says 188 people have been vaccinated. There are 600 staff members, which means around 30 percent have been vaccinated.

One of Memorial Health’s top doctors says he saw the same early hesitancy in healthcare providers on campus. He says it’s hard to know right now how many staff members are vaccinated.

“We saw that natural pause…wanting to learn information. And then, acceptance,” said Associate Chief Medical Officer Doctor Stephen Thacker. “With that, we’ve seen improvement in the uptick of vaccines in our healthcare workers and have seen that continue to improve as we get outside of the holiday season.”

Dr. Davis notes that while that hesitancy persists among first responders, it is not significantly present in people 65 and older. The group is also currently eligible for the vaccine.

At Saint Joseph’s/Candler, 66 percent of co-workers and medical staff have gotten a vaccine, according to its media representative.

At Liberty Regional Medical Center, the CEO says 200 of its 393 healthcare workers have received the vaccine. 118 have opted out and that “despite the science to support the vaccine, the #1 reason given by those not yet taking it is they feel the vaccine was rushed and they want to wait until their coworkers have had both doses of the vaccine to see how they do with it/how well it is tolerated.”

A media representative for East Georgia Regional Medical Center did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Dr. Thacker says there is a method to this process. Other doctors warn that delays in phase one of vaccination could delay future phases, too.

“Without those individuals healthy and doing the amazing job that they do, some components on how our cities perform safely is at risk,” said Dr. Thacker.

“We really can’t take on another huge chunk of the population until we get this chunk of the population, which has been identified as the priority, fairly taken care of first,” said Dr. Davis.

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