Dr. Ritu Chandra speaks on vaccine progress within Russell County and Phenix City School districts

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PHENIX CITY, Ala. (WRBL) – Preferred Medical Group has provided the COVID-19 vaccine to students in Russell County and Phenix City school districts for over a month.

Dr. Ritu Chandra partnered with both school districts to make the vaccine available to students. Russell County and Phenix City have the lowest vaccination rates in the state. Preferred Medical Group held its first vaccine clinic on Sept. 9, at Russell County High School. A month into the vaccination process, founder and owner of Preferred Medical Group Dr. Ritu Chandra said vaccine numbers aren’t what they expected.

“Each school has had students, as well as staff, get vaccinated at the school. But I think the response has not been as huge as I thought it would be, but I feel with the vaccine almost getting approved for the younger age group the five to eleven, we can have a really robust effort in that we plan ahead and what I mean by planning ahead, as you know Phenix City and Russell County have historically been the lowest in the country for vaccination rates. So our biggest obstacle is promoting vaccine confidence in people, people are just scared they have misinformation and some fears about the vaccination,” Dr. Chandra said.

To help get more shots in arms and to provide information about the vaccine, Dr. Chandra plans on having virtual town hall meetings on all social media platforms.

“We might use Facebook live and invite all the parents to share the information with them and allow them to ask questions. Historically, we know that pediatricians have a lot of influence in parents making decisions on when to vaccinate their children. So we want to make the voices of pediatricians, along with the school, in a very nice organized open forum to encourage parents and children to get vaccinated,” Dr. Chandra said.

Dr. Chandra told News 3 they’ve provided a few hundred vaccines.

“It’s not been huge but in the hundreds, not humungous numbers, but the people who were enthusiastic for the vaccine had already gotten it. The ones who are sitting on the fence are mostly sitting on the fence and now when we go talk to parents about children ages five to eleven. We can use the example of 12 to 17-year-olds, those who took it who have had very positive outcomes,” Dr. Chandra said.

According to Dr. Chandra, if the CDC approves the vaccine for children five to eleven then there is a high chance of having children fully vaccinated by Christmas.

“We could potentially have fully vaccinated kids by Christmas, I think that’s tremendously exciting to look forward to having Christmas with family and friends where were not having to worry about COVID and masking up,” Dr. Chandra said.

Dr. Chandra said she’s gotten mixed feedback from parents in the Russell County and Phenix City school districts on providing the vaccine to students.

“I talk to so many families on a daily basis, some who are considering it or almost there but have not decided, I’m able to convince them. But there are some die-hard holdouts who will tell you in plain Alabama language, ‘NO.’ You know something bad is going to happen to me before my kid gets the vaccine and that’s unfortunate but there are some very big die-hards out there,” Dr. Chandra said.

According to Dr. Chandra, if enough students don’t get vaccinated then there could be a huge spike in COVID numbers since the holiday season is around the corner.

“That is a very likely scenario, as scary as it is. Traditionally all respiratory viruses get communicated more in the winter season because we’re all indoors and in closed quarters and viruses thrive better in cooler temperatures. So yes, we are potentially looking at some very big spikes in numbers, it just depends on the vaccination rate and I hope more and more people get the message that we’re in this together, and the more herd immunity we have, the better it is for our community,” Dr. Chandra said.

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