Dr. Rick Sabol

BLUEFIELD — Mercer County’s Health Officer said Wednesday vaccinations are so crucial to save lives and stop the pandemic they should be mandatory for everyone eligible.

“Everybody should be vaccinated,” said Dr. Rick Sabol, who was appointed Medical Officer for the Mercer County Health Department earlier this year. “If it were up to me, I would make it mandatory for everyone to get vaccinated.”

Sabol based that recommendation on several factors, including the rapid spread of the more infectious and more dangerous Delta variant.”

In Mercer County, he said, there were 126 new positive cases during the month of June, 123 in July but last week the county saw 160 new cases in just four days.

“If everybody had been vaccinated we would not see this jump,” he said, adding that he is “getting tired of seeing these people die needlessly.”

Sabol said he understands that people have a right not to get vaccinated, but they do not have right to spread it to others, and that is what is happening.

“That is what is frustrating to medical professionals like I am,” he said. “They refuse to get vaccinated and then go out into groups of people with no mask and then go back to school or to a restaurant and pass it on. You don’t have to have symptoms to be carrying it.”

Another problem caused by not being vaccinated is the potential for more mutations to occur.

“We will see more variants,” he said. “The longer this goes on, the more variants we are going to see.”

The more people who get vaccinated, the better the chances are of minimizing the virus continuing to find hosts and then multiply and mutate.

With the positive cases numbers surging in Mercer County, and the state reaching more than 7,500 active cases Wednesday, the highest level since late February, Sabol said the vast majority of those cases are the Delta variant.

“It is two to four times more infectious than the original virus,” he said. Not only that, it is more likely to impact children, with babies as young as 12 days old contracting it.

A report by Ballad Health in Southwest Virginia released Tuesday said 32 percent of new COVID cases that have soared in that region are with kids 18 years old and younger.

Sabol and Mercer County Health Department Administrator Roger Topping have both recommended the school system require mask wearing by all students, teachers and staff.

“I would recommend that every school in the country go back to masks until we get a handle on this new surge,” Sabol said, adding that schools should require vaccinations as well. Sabol, an emergency room physician with 37 years experience, said he has seen first-hand what this virus can do.

“It’s a shame this many people are dying so needlessly,” he said, adding that almost all cases that lead to death are among the unvaccinated.

He is also concerned about events like the West Virginia State Fair and crowds at upcoming football games exacerbating the spread, and the misery.

Sabol said, to him, it is “common sense” to be vaccinated and to wear masks in crowds as well practice social distancing.

With full approval of all three COVID vaccines expected from the FDA by the end of the month, that may spur more people to get vaccinated, he added.

A lot of misinformation circulates about the virus also, and some people continue to say it is not real.

“People who don’t believe it is real are just blind,” he said.

He also said sequencing has shown the vast majority of COVID cases here and around the country are the Delta variant and there is a small chance those who have been vaccinated can contract it.

However, Sabol said those who do experience few adverse effects because the vaccine protects them. “These vaccines work.”

The DHHR reported that, as of Tuesday, Mercer County had 193 active cases, a number that has been steadily growing all month.

Princeton Community Hospital has seen the number of COVID in-patients grow from a consistent average of five to 15 earlier this week.

Statewide on Wednesday, 409 COVID cases were hospitalized with 135 in ICUs and 55 on ventilators. All of these statistics are higher than they have been since earlier this year when coming out of the January surge.

The state has now seen almost 3,000 COVID related deaths but only about 50 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.

Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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