Local health officials talk vaccine hesitancy as experimental COVID-19 treatment seeks FDA approval

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TYLER, Texas (KETK) – 47% of East Texas is fully vaccinated right now, and more test sites are being added to keep this downward trend.

While it has been months since the vaccine was released, some East Texans are still concerned about its safety.

The Smith County Health Authority, Dr. Paul McGaha, said reports of death after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine are rare.

“Working in public health, we would report to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), and they would report back with forms to us to thoroughly analyze what that adverse reaction was. FDA requires for healthcare workers to report any death after COVID-19 vaccination, even if it’s unclear what was the cause”, Dr. McGaha said.

A potential game-changer could be the Merck treatment pill. The company made the announcement four days ago, and the public now knows more about how it works. Health officials are saying that it is similar to Tamiflu as it reduces COVID-19 symptoms.

“Hospitals are telling us that 90% of the people that are in the hospital right now for COVID-19 are unvaccinated, and a step further they say 98 plus percent of the people that are being treated in their hospitals and in the ICU and on ventilators have not been vaccinated as well,” said NET Health CEO George Roberts.

The Merck treatment pill would be prescribed as soon as the person gets sick. Merck says it’s cutting the risk of hospitalization or death in half, which would help East Texas hospitals.

Merck is currently seeking emergency use authorization from the FDA. They hope to have enough pills for 10 million people by the end of the year.

Currently, there are 24 available I-C-U beds in Tyler and Longview. The hospitalization rate is below 17%, and this has decreased almost in half since the recent peak.

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