FRANKLIN — Region 3 Public Health Director Dr. Chip Riggins doesn’t see a quick return to normal until more people get vaccinated.

Riggins said currently only 15 percent of Iberia Parish and 17 percent of St. Mary Parish are vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Statewide, we’re showing that 70 percent of seniors ages 70 and older, and 60 percent of seniors 60 and older are vaccinated. But we’ve got to keep plugging away,” Riggins said.

“We’re nowhere close to herd immunity, but if more and more folks get vaccinated, we will enjoy a much more quick return to normal.”

Herd immunity occurs when most of a population is immune to or vaccinated against an infectious disease, providing indirect protection or population immunity.

Riggins said that while neither the Moderna nor Pfizer vaccines are perfect, their benefits are clear in fighting the affects of COVID-19.

“Statewide, we’ve seen about 120 cases so far of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 after they have been vaccinatedm” he said. “However, all of their symptoms have been very mild.”

Regardless, Riggins said its necessary for everyone to continue wearing masks and to practice social distancing, even if they have been vaccinated.

“Simply put, you could infect someone without even knowing it. This is the only way we’re ever going to get back to any kind of normal,” he said.

Regarding the nationwide pause on the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, Riggins said he hopes people do not confuse their concerns about getting a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine with the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

“These vaccines are completely different and they are from two different families. But we hope that the Johnson and Johnson vaccine will be made available again soon, because of its one shot convenience.”

Riggins said once someone recovers from COVID-19, they should wait 90 days before getting vaccinated, because it is not know yet as to how long a person’s immunity to the virus will last after recovery.

“And if there is a need for a booster shot to the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine later this year, I can’t see it being any worse than getting a flu shot.”

In St. Mary Parish, Riggins said he credits Teche Action Clinic for its work in reaching the African American population in the parish.

“In Region 3, St. Mary Parish has the best ratio of African American people who have completed their vaccination series,” he said.

Riggins said 32.5 percent of the population that has completed their vaccine series is African American and 31.23 percent of the population in St. Mary Parish is African American.

“Teche Action Clinic is reaching a population that has the least access to the vaccine and its one where the trust is the highest, because those individuals see Teche Action Clinic as their primary medical home,” he said.

Dr. Gary Wiltz, CEO of Teche Action Clinic, said the community health center has vaccinated over 5,000 St. Mary Parish residents, 60 percent of whom were African American and 50 percent of whom were above the age of 65.

Wiltz encourages everyone to take advantage of the opportunity, particularly African Americans, “because of what it is doing to our community.”

He said he talks about Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett to his patients. She is the African American immunologist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who is the lead scientist who developed the mrRNA-based vaccine to fight COVID-19.

Wiltz, who is African American, said when he has a patient who is hesitant about being vaccinated, said he shows them Corbett’s picture.

“She created Pfizer and the same technology for Moderna. She’s got skin in the game,” he said.

“The messenger RNA in this vaccine creates a scenario where your body recognizes this virus, and when it sees it, it attacks it,” explaining that the vaccines do not contain elements of the COVID-19 virus.

“What’s the end goal? Not to die,” Wiltz said.

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