Forty-one percent.

Nearly two years into a pandemic that has included the onslaught of the delta variant in South Georgia and now the omicron variant, only 41% of Tift County residents are fully vaccinated.

That's a year after COVID-19 vaccines were introduced.

The Tift County percentage is lower than the state average of vaccinations at 53%, according to the Georgia Department of Health South Health District last week. Tift is also lower than our neighboring counties, such as Turner, 51%; Brooks, 45% but higher than Cook, 39%; Ben Hill, 38%; Irwin, 38%; Lowndes, 37%; Berrien, 32%; Echols, 32%; Lanier, 27%.

"In three weeks, the seven-day case increase for our 10 counties – Ben Hill, Berrien, Brooks, Cook, Echols, Irwin, Lanier, Lowndes, Tift and Turner – has increased more than 20-fold," South Health District officials said in a statement last week. "The seven-day case increase for Dec. 16, 2021, was 116 for our 10 counties. The seven-day case increase as of Jan. 6, 2022, (was) 2,381."

Vaccination cannot "cure" the virus once a person is already infected but it can prevent people from catching the virus. The vaccine is not a 100% guarantee against catching the virus, either, but health officials say vaccinated people who test positive for COVID-19 are less likely to experience symptoms as severe as people who are not vaccinated. 

“Vaccines remain the best public health measure to protect people from COVID-19, slow transmission and reduce the likelihood of new variants emerging and South Health District wants to encourage all eligible individuals who have not been vaccinated to do so,” according to district statement issued last week.

Health officials are urging people to get vaccinated.

“We know that vaccines help decrease your chance of serious illness and hospitalization,” Dr. William Grow, M.D., FACP, district health director, said in a statement. “We are more than one year out from the release of the first COVID vaccines. For those who were hesitant, now is the time. Vaccination is our best tool to overcome this virus.”

Forty-one percent is a shamefully low number for a county that has suffered nearly 150 virus-related deaths, hundreds of hospitalizations and thousands of cases. 

We have said it in numerous editorials during the past year and will continue repeating it: Please get vaccinated.

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