KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
The delta variant of the coronavirus has spread across the Mississippi Gulf Coast causing a surge in cases and an increase in hospitalizations.
The devastating effects of COVID-19 on patients is something Master Sgt. Felicia Johnson, an Air Force Reserve medic with the 403rd Aeromedical Staging Squadron, deals with daily in her civilian job as a registered nurse working in the intensive care unit at Memorial Hospital in Gulfport, Mississippi.
Their ICUs, as well as other ICUs across the state, are full with patients ranging in age from 20 to 50 years old.
“I leave every shift in tears; it’s awful seeing people die from this,” she said. “I’ve seen so many people say goodbye to their loved ones. It’s exhausting because there isn’t enough staff and resources available to provide for the surge in cases. And, if it’s like this now, what’s it going to be like for cold and flu season?”
According to the Mississippi State Department of Health, from June 30 to July 27, 96% of cases were in the unvaccinated population, and 88% of people hospitalized for coronavirus were unvaccinated, and the unvaccinated population made up 82% of deaths from coronavirus.
“As of July 30, Mississippi was ranked 51st for having people fully vaccinated in our nation’s states and territories,” said Lt. Col. Natalie K. McKee, 403rd ASTS nurse and in civilian life is a nursing instructor with a Doctorate in Public Health Nursing.
During the wing's Unit Training Assembly Aug. 7-8, the 403rd ASTS hosted two COVID-19 vaccine education sessions to provide Reserve Citizen Airmen with information about the science and facts of the vaccine and give them an opportunity to ask questions to assist them in making fully informed decisions about getting vaccinated.
“There is a lot of bad information out there and people are hearing anecdotal information and stories second and third hand and on social media and it is not accurate,” said Lt. Col. Lisa Haik, 403rd ASTS chief nurse who in her civilian life is an obstetric nurse.
“COVID and the vaccine have been politicized from the beginning, and that hasn’t been helpful,” she added. “The Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health are the best resources for information about COVID-19 and the vaccine.”
Johnson said she encourages people to get the vaccine to protect themselves, their families and their community, and to do their part to decrease the spread.
“The Delta variant is twice as contagious as other variants and can cause more severe illness,” said McKee. “Vaccinated people who become infected with coronavirus tend to be infectious for a lesser amount of time and do not get as severely ill as unvaccinated people.”
Currently, Keesler Air Force Base is offering the Pfizer vaccines to active duty members and Moderna to reservists.
According to the CDC, the vaccine is safe and effective: it doesn’t contain the live virus that causes COVID-19 so people can’t get sick with COVID, and it doesn’t cause infertility or make people magnetic. For information about the vaccine, its safety and effectiveness, common misperceptions and the facts, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/facts.html and https://www.nih.gov/.
The 403rd Wing will host additional vaccine education sessions for Airmen during the September UTA.