On Tuesday, Kentucky's health leader did not mince words:
"Those who are passing along lies — they are lies — about these vaccines are killing people."
That was the latest COVID-19 message from Dr. Steven Stack, commissioner for the Kentucky Department for Public Health, during an Aug. 17 briefing with Gov. Andy Beshear. Stack and Beshear both were more direct in addressing coronavirus myths and safety precautions than in previous briefings as Kentucky continues to deal with the high-risk virus and fast-escalating caseloads throughout the entire state.
In addition to his usual caseload update, Stack focused on myths that many individuals are spreading about COVID-19 and the vaccines that largely slow its spread, addressing a recent assumption that vaccines can harm pregnant people.
"As far as pregnancy and fertility, there is no evidence whatsoever among four-and-a-half billion people that there is any adverse impact on pregnancy. In fact, what there is evidence about is if you are pregnant and do get COVID, your risk of serious harm or even death for yourself or your unborn child is much higher with COVID than if you are not pregnant," Stack said during the briefing.
"Please, if you are pregnant, get vaccinated. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends it, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends it, and the Kentucky Department for Public Health recommends it."
Stack said that more than 4 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered around the world, and nearly 200 million Americans have had at least one dose.
"These pharmaceuticals are among the most heavily studied, heavily scrutinized, heavily monitored and rapidly deployed that humanity has ever seen in all of our existence. These are not experimental," Stack stressed. "The risks with getting COVID are so much larger than any risks you get with a vaccine."
Stack said that widespread myths — including among anti-mask and anti-vaccine politicians — are preventing many people throughout the United States from getting an authorized COVID-19 vaccine, thus prolonging the pandemic and contributing to the virus's harm.
"Those who are spreading false and dangerous information are killing people. I don't know how to say it any more directly. People who are going out there and saying false and demonstrably inaccurate information about the utility and value of masks, about the safety and importance of vaccinations to prevent this disease, are killing people," Stack said.
"It's tragic, it's preventable and, folks, I would just encourage you to think real long and hard about where you get your quality medical information from to keep you safe because lives literally are depending on it more than ever before," he added.
Providing accurate information is high on Stack's and Beshear's priority list, as COVID-19 myths are one of the things reportedly causing vaccination hesitancy within a state that's being quickly consumed by the virus. As of Aug. 18, every county in Kentucky is labeled as "high risk" for COVID-19 on the CDC's data tracker.
According to figures from the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released Aug. 17, 17.5 out of 100 hospital admissions in Kentucky are COVID-19 patients, a 48% increase over the previous week. There were 15,754 new COVID-19 cases reported, a 60% increase.
"The Delta variant continues to burn through our population, with the most severe escalation — meaning the most rapid rise in cases — that we have seen to date," Beshear said. "Hospitalizations have been doubling every two weeks — something we've never seen before. By the end of this week, we expect to have more Kentuckians in the hospital battling COVID than at any point during the pandemic."
The speedy increase is pushing Kentucky hospitals into crisis mode, as beds continue to fill with COVID-19 patients who largely are unvaccinated. According to the Aug. 17 report, 14% of Kentucky hospitals are experiencing staff shortages, a 1,300% increase over the previous week.
Additionally, Beshear said that the COVID-19 spread elsewhere — also largely fueled by the highly transmissible Delta variant — is causing patients from border states to attempt to be admitted into Kentucky's rapidly filling healthcare facilities. Beshear and Stack said that the patients aren't just COVID-19 patients, but other types of patients who are being denied service because there are not enough hospital beds or staff.
"What we're finding across the states is this disease, this version of COVID — the Delta variant — is hitting people harder, they are getting sicker and they are younger. And so what's happening is they are filling up ICUs in a higher proportion relative to the total number of people going into hospitals," Stack said. "This means that it will place a really serious strain on ICU capacity sooner even than the regular hospital beds. We could find ourselves in trouble real fast whole don't have access to ICU-level care when they need it."
When showing how ICU figures have sharply risen this summer, Stack said that the state expects to hit its all-time record this week with no signs that the virus is slowing down.
"This is all preventable. None of this needed to happen," Stack said. "We've got to have people get vaccinated."
Beshear said that as of this week, more than 2.4 million Kentuckians have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, adding that that the number of vaccinations for residents age 18 and older increased 1% over previous figures.
But there's still bad news in the younger age brackets, where Delta hospitalizations are increasing. Only 40% of Kentuckians age 18-29 have gotten a COVID-19 vaccine shot. Beshear said that his team is waiting for new information but estimates that less than 40% of children age 12-17 have gotten at least one dose of a vaccine.
Only 16 counties within Kentucky have at least 50% of their populations vaccinated, according to a chart Beshear posted.
Beshear recently signed an executive order requiring masks to be worn in all indoor spaces within schools. Despite masks, social distancing and vaccination being shown to slow the spread of COVID-19 — especially near people who are ineligible for vaccinations, such as those age 11 and younger — some school officials and parents have pushed back.
Beshear urged vaccinated Kentuckians to help others sort through the myths and get the shot.
"Please have that uncomfortable conversation (that a loved one should get vaccinated). At this point, they're not going to believe me, they're not going to believe someone else in government and might not believe their doctor," Beshear said. "But you, your family member or their friend, saying that you love them and that you care about them and that you're even willing to lose that friendship... Folks, I need you to do it. And they need you to do it, even if they don't know it quite yet.
Watch Beshear and Stack's address below.
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