With Austin-area COVID cases quickly rising, health leaders urgently aim for more vaccinations
Austin Public Health on Tuesday set a new goal to have 70% of Austin and Travis County residents fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by Sept. 1, an urgent aim just as the average number of new daily cases nearly doubled in one week.
Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County health authority, said it was imperative for vaccine-hesitant Austinites to go in for a coronavirus shot this week to protect the community from the delta variant, a highly contagious mutation of the coronavirus.
Walkes told Travis County commissioners on Tuesday that the delta variant, which has been spreading quickly throughout the nation, is likely the culprit of the area's increasing hospitalizations and cases.
Gatherings of the unvaccinated during the Fourth of July weekend also may have played a part in the uptick, Walkes said.
As of Tuesday morning, the seven-day moving average for new daily cases of the coronavirus was 63, compared to 33 the previous week. The seven-day moving average of new hospital admissions was up to 18, compared to 11 the previous week.
The new vaccination goal of having 70% of the area's population fully vaccinated by Sept. 1 comes one week after Austin and Travis County celebrated reaching its previous goal of having 70% of the population vaccinated with at least one dose.
As of Tuesday morning, 52% of Austin and Travis County residents who are 12 years or older have been fully vaccinated, according to data provided by Walkes.
Austin Public Health officials for months have been striving to reach a goal of having 70% to 90% of residents fully vaccinated against the disease, which they consider yje threshold for herd immunity.
Herd immunity, which occurs when enough people in a population are immune to the disease through vaccination that it becomes difficult for the illness to spread further, is important because it also protects those who can't be given the COVID-19 vaccines, such as very young children.
However, the longer it takes for a community to become immune through vaccines the more likely it is for the disease to morph into variants that can often be more contagious and better at infecting both unvaccinated and vaccinated people. This makes reaching herd immunity more complicated.
In the case of delta, vaccinated individuals who do become infected with the variant will likely not experience severe symptoms. It is more likely, though, that non-vaccinated or partially vaccinated people can experience severe illness, Austin Public Health officials have said.
Austin Public Health on its website has a list of locations giving away coronavirus vaccines for free this week.
The Texas Department of State Health Services is currently testing only certain coronavirus samples for the delta variant. As a result, it's likely delta is spreading locally even though no confirmed tests support that theory, Walkes said.
Cases of delta have been confirmed in neighboring Williamson County, and in other large Texas cities, like Houston.
"We are stressing to everyone that can hear the sound of my voice that it is important to get vaccinated," Walkes said. "We have to understand and have everyone understand that the way out of this pandemic is for people to be vaccinated to protect themselves from contracting COVID-19."