70% of Bell adults vaccinated, new CDC data shows; updated rates come as health district hires new director | Coronavirus

More than 70% of Bell County adults are fully vaccinated as new data from the Centers for Disease Control shows that local vaccination rates have increased.

Although information from the Texas Department of State Health Services shows a vaccination rate of 42.78% for those 5 years or older, new information on the CDC COVID Data Tracker shows that vaccinations rates are 70.4% for adults 18 or older.

More than 92% of adults 65 or older in Bell County are now vaccinated, according to a news release.

The CDC tracker now includes vaccine rate data that had previously not been made available to local and state health officials. Vaccination rate data from federal entities such as the Bureau of Prisons, Department of Defense, Indian Health Services, and Veterans Health Agency are now included and in the vaccine rate data for areas such as Bell County, the release said.

“This is critical information for our Bell County vaccine rate and will continue to help us navigate where to focus vaccine education and resources,” Bell County Public Health District Interim Director Nikki Morrow said. “In areas where there are military installations this has been a known challenge and we are happy to now have the information. However, we still have work to do as a community to continue to increase our local vaccine rate and provide as many resources as we can to our Bell County residents. We strongly encourage those 16 years and older to get a booster dose to help protect against COVID-19 and the Omicron variant.”

Morrow said the health district had sought obtain updated data since late July 2021.

With child vaccinations underway, the CDC data also shows Bell County vaccine rates for those eligible and fully vaccinated 5 years and older at 60.2%.

The CDC also reports the percent of county population 12 years and older fully vaccinated at 67.8%.

Widespread vaccination is a critical tool in protection against COVID-19, especially for those at highest risk from severe illness, and death, Morrow said.

The district continues to promote safety strategies such as masking, social distancing, avoiding crowded areas, frequent hand washing, and monitoring your daily health are also important steps to slowing the spread of the virus.

COVID-19 vaccines have been found to be very safe and effective and are being continuously monitored by the FDA with the most comprehensive and intense safety monitoring program in U.S. history, according to the release.

New director

The updated data comes as the health district announced a new director.

Michael Blomquist, chairman of the district’s board of health, announced the decision after the board’s meeting on Monday.

Amy Yeager, hired as the new director, is expected to take over her duties starting on Feb. 14 of next year.

Yeager will replace Morrow, who has held the position since May.

Belton Mayor Wayne Carpenter, who serves on the board of health, said he was also a part of the committee that chose Yeager out of four finalists for the job.

“She had experience running a county health department and that was certainly a primary factor,” Carpenter said. “She (also) had a lot of experience in public relations. And, since the COVID crisis has started, certainly public relations and communication with the community and county at large is very critical.”

Yeager has a bachelor of science in human development and family studies from Pennsylvania State University as well as a master’s of public health degree from the Saint Louis University School of Public Health.

Yeager has served for 21 years as the director of community health at the Madison County Health Department in Illinois. She also has worked at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis and Chestnut Health Systems, a substance abuse and mental health agency.

“Amy brings with her a vast array of education and experience in public health at the local and state level and has a desire to be involved with national organizations and initiatives,” Blomquist said in a statement. “We look forward to working with her for the health and well-being for all Bell County residents.”

Outgoing director Morrow took over the position following the departure of former director Amanda Robison-Chadwell.

“Nikki has done a wonderful job this year as interim director and we were all extremely pleased,” Carpenter said.

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