Monument Health concerned as S.D. trails national average for COVID-19 vaccinations Original

RAPID CITY, S.D. (KELO) — The COVID-19 pandemic has become déjà vu for Dr. Shankar Kurra. 

Kurra, the vice president of medical affairs at Monument Health, is back asking the public to help “flatten the curve” when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Monument’s main Rapid City hospital, there are 56 COVID-19 patients in hospital beds, 15 in the ICU and 13 on ventilators. With full hospitals, cases and positivity rates rising again, Kurra said more people need to choose to become vaccinated against COVID-19 to assist local hospitals. 

“We’re already at capacity in the ICUs in the hospital. The only way we can kind of manage this is to get vaccinated so we can slow down and flatten the transmission curve,” Kurra said. “What we want to avoid in South Dakota is a crisis standard of care situation. The only way you can do that is by vaccination. Vaccination completely suppressed transmission.” 

As of Thursday, the South Dakota Department of Health reports 70% of the population, age 12 or older, have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while only 58%, age 12 or older, is fully vaccinated. Kurra pointed out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists 69% of the United States population, age 12 or older, is fully vaccinated. 

“The groups that go to work and go to school are currently under vaccinated,” said Kurra, who added the age groups throughout 18 to 50 are 40-50% vaccinated. 

With South Dakota trailing the national average for vaccinations, Kurra said there’s more opportunity for the coronavirus to transmit. He also said South Dakota’s rural makeup creates drastic variables in vaccinations county by county. 

“As long as you have counties (with large unvaccinated populations), and there’s several of them, that’s half the population susceptible to the virus,” Kurra said. “That will be a perfect stage for the next wave.” 

Kurra said he expects a winter surge and more upticks in COVID-19 cases throughout the months of December, January and February. 

“Each of the waves are directly related to our human behaviors,” Kurra said. “Anytime you see an upward trend, there are two things going on. No. 1 it’s human behaviors and No. 2 is vaccination. The virus itself doesn’t drive these waves; it’s people. The biggest one is the vaccine. That’s the best way to suppress spread.” 

COVID-19 will turn endemic with more vaccinations 

Until the pandemic chapter of COVID-19 finishes, Kurra said health systems have to remain prepared for large influxes of new patients. He’s optimistic the vaccine now being available for kids aged 5-11 will help get more of the total population to 70% vaccinated against the virus.

“That’s a big impact. These kids that go to school are very effective transmitters of the disease,” Kurra said. 

With more age groups eligible, Kurra still stressed people in all age groups from 5 to 50 need to reach 70% vaccination until COVID-19 can be considered to be more endemic. 

“Then we’ll stop seeing more waves,” Kurra said. “The only reason we see waves is because we don’t have enough vaccination rates.” 

Discussing vaccination with friends and family 

With Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day approaching, discussions between family and friends on the COVID-19 vaccine may happen. 

Kurra emphasized choices to become vaccinated or not are rational choices. 

“You have to meet people at where they are in life,” Kurra said. “My advice for everyone would to engage in a conversation with empathy.”   

Kurra said he’s noticed when people see a neighbor or close friend affected by the disease, they’re more likely to listen.  

“If we show empathy and understanding of why people chose not to vaccinated, given how bad things are today, I think we can get folks to vaccinated,” Kurra said. “I don’t believe in tough conversations that actually push people away and show a lack of empathy and understanding.” 

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