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Karen Mansfield/Observer-Reporter

Washington Health System President and CEO Brook Ward in a photo from last month

Washington Health System is encouraging people to get a COVID-19 vaccine, and the health system has begun releasing a series of videos featuring physicians and pharmacists addressing the importance of getting vaccinated.

In a regular online update last week, WHS President and CEO Brook Ward said only 41% of eligible people in Washington County have been fully vaccinated. As of Monday, 55.7% of Pennsylvanians 18 years or older are fully vaccinated, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

In Greene County, 31.9% of people have been fully vaccinated; in Fayette County, 39.1% are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Gov. Tom Wolf has said Pennsylvania’s mask mandate will be lifted when 70% of eligible adults are fully vaccinated, or no later than June 28.

While there is no magic number after which a population will be protected from coronavirus, health officials consider 70% to be a minimum rate.

“So we have a ways to go to get to that 70%,” said Ward, noting he strongly encourages those 12 years old and older to get vaccinated.

“At this point, the vaccines are readily available, and they’re here to protect you and your loved ones,” Ward said. “And after giving millions and millions of doses not only across the United States but across the world, the vaccine is proven time and time again not only to be safe but to be effective, and you have a greater risk in getting COVID and having something bad happen to you than you do by far by getting the vaccine.”

Ward also emphasized the importance of listening to the guidance of physicians and other medical experts, not rumors on social media sites.

WHS has a physicians referral line, 724-350-4310, where people can connect with a primary care physician who can answer their vaccine questions.

He cited the CDC and state DOH websites as the best sources of factual information about the vaccine.

In one of the first videos released by WHS, Dr. Nadine Dandachi, medical director of the ICU at Washington Hospital, described the past year as “really, really difficult” for ICU doctors and staff because “we are dealing with the sickest patients of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

She noted WHS is seeing patients in their 20s, 30s, who had mild COVID symptoms now returning to the hospital with symptoms including scarring in the lungs, clots, enlarged hearts, and other health issues.

Dandachi notes that since the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines, the number of cases in the United States has decreased by 85%, and adverse outcomes from COVID-19, and ICU and non-ICU admissions have decreased by 65 to 75%.

“This is huge,” said Dandachi, noting that nearly 100% of COVID-19 patients now admitted to WHS have not been fully vaccinated.

For those hesitant to get the vaccine, Dandachi pointed out the rate of adverse outcomes is reported at 1 to 2 per million, while 20% of COVID patients, even if they survive, have adverse outcomes.

WHS offers free, walk-in COVID-19 vaccine clinics at Peters Township Recreation Center, WHS Greene, and at Washington Hospital.

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