Triangle doctors fight COVID and misinformation as vaccination numbers decline

Joel Brown Image
Saturday, July 17, 2021
Triangle docs fight COVID and misinformation as vax numbers decline
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"What we're seeing is a combination of a lot of unvaccinated people getting back to what life was like before the pandemic."

North Carolina's summertime COVID-19 spike is putting the state back in a troublesome spot: back above 1,000 daily cases; the Delta variant spreading fast; and still way too many unvaccinated people.

Some of those concerning new signs on display, Friday, at the vaccination site at Wake County Health Department: lots of empty seats as North Carolina's vaccination numbers continue to lag.

Another concern is the rise in daily cases statewide. Friday's case count of 1,023 is nearly triple what it was two weeks ago. State metrics don't break down if a patient received the COVID shot, but nationally 99% of new cases are unvaccinated people according to the National Institutes of Health.

"I mean honestly I'm not surprised at this point," said Triangle family physician and UNC professor Dr. Alexa Mieses Malchuk. ABC 11 asked her about what's fueling the new surge: is it the Delta variant? Or is it after-effects of holiday gatherings on the 4th?

"I think what we're really seeing is a lot of different factors all coming to a head at once," she said. "It's the summer, people are antsy. They want to get out. They want to travel. There are no longer mask mandates in a lot of states. And so what I think we're seeing is a combination of a lot of unvaccinated people getting back to what life was like before the pandemic. I think it's for that reason we're seeing an increase in cases."

That increase in cases is especially bad in parts of the country with lower vaccination rates. The highly-transmissible Delta variant fuels bigger and bigger outbreaks.

"There is a clear message that is coming through: this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated," said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Wallensky.

At the White House, President Joe Biden slammed social media companies for not doing enough to stop the spread of vaccine misinformation.

"They're killing people. Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and they're killing people," Biden said.

Dr. Mieses Malchuk recalled a recent conversation with a young healthy woman who was vaccine-hesitant. The patient had already received her first dose but heard an untrue rumor that a second dose causes infertility.

"And we had a very frank and open conversation about what the research shows that the vaccine does not affect fertility. And that was enough to encourage her to get the second dose," Dr. Mieses Malchuk said. "Sometimes people just need the right information from a trusted source like their family physician."

There is no statewide breakdown of how widespread the Delta variant is here. But UNC Health is sequencing the genetics on its cases. 10% of new cases are Delta variant. But that number is a few days old and is expected to double every few days.