The delta variant of COVID-19 “is one of the most contagious respiratory viruses ever known,” a leading doctor at WellSpan Health told LebTown last week.

Instead of an ill person infecting two others, as was the case with the original COVID-19 strain, that number is now likely to be six or seven, family physician Dr. Mark Goedecker, who is chief medical officer of primary care for WellSpan, explained.

And that’s reflected in the increasing virus caseload – and hospitalization figures – across WellSpan’s seven hospitals, including Good Samaritan in Lebanon.

What also stands out, he told LebTown, is that 90% of patients who were treated in the hospital for COVID-19 last month were not vaccinated against it.

In July and August, all deaths from COVID-19 in the WellSpan system were among the unvaccinated, said spokesman Ryan Coyle.

As of Sept. 9, there were 170 COVID-19 admissions across the WellSpan regional network, 21 of whom were in Good Samaritan Hospital, according to the system’s COVID-19 Data Dashboard. The seven-day rolling average of confirmed and probable cases in Lebanon County, as of Sept. 8, was 59.

On July 9, 24 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized, with zero patients in Good Samaritan. And the seven-day rolling average in Lebanon County? One case.

There have been 139 COVID-19-related deaths at Good Samaritan.

Read More: Past coverage of COVID-19

Getting vaccinated “doesn’t make you bulletproof,” Goedecker said, but “what it does pretty well is prevent serious disease.”

Vaccination is a mitigation tool, just like masking and social distancing, he said.

It definitely reduces the chances of “things you want to avoid,” Goedecker said: ending up on a ventilator in the intensive care unit, or dying.

Even patients with serious health issues – those at highest risk – are better protected from “really bad” COVID-19 by being vaccinated, he said.

And for certain populations with moderately to severely compromised immune systems, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a third dose for an additional layer of protection.

That third dose (not to be confused with the COVID-19 booster shot) is available at WellSpan, Goedecker said, and people are taking advantage.

Another trend in WellSpan COVID-19 hospitalizations is the drop in average age. In August, that was 61 years; in January, it was 70.

Goedecker said that’s due to lower vaccination rates among the non-senior population.

A few children have been hospitalized, too.

“The good news is many kids do not get seriously ill,” he said.

Goedecker strongly supports vaccination for children 12 and older as well as masking in schools “as a very effective way to prevent spread.”

He also sought to correct some misinformation.

For example, some people who’ve gotten COVID-19 say they don’t need the vaccine because they’ve developed antibodies.

But “we know you can get COVID again after 90 days,” he said. Vaccination for those who’ve already had the virus is very effective, Goedecker said, and “adds that extra layer of protection.”

A second myth is that the vaccine affects fertility and is unsafe for pregnant women, he said.

“Unfortunately, that’s a rumor and not a proven, scientific fact,” Goedecker said.

In late July, the American College Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine released a statement that recommended all pregnant women be vaccinated against COVID-19.

This stance reflects evidence “demonstrating the safe use of the COVID-19 vaccines during pregnancy from tens of thousands of reporting individuals over the last several months, as well as the current low vaccination rates and concerning increase in cases,” a release explained.

“Data have shown that COVID-19 infection puts pregnant people at increased risk of severe complications and even death; yet only about 22% of pregnant individuals have received one or more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Such a statement from two leading organizations representing specialists in obstetric care is “very powerful,” Goedecker said.

The big, overall message to get across in the current delta outbreak is the importance of vaccination, he said.

“I can’t emphasize that enough,” Goedecker said.

“It is safe, it is effective,” he said. “We have to protect each other.”

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Paula Wolf worked for 31 years as a general assignment reporter, sports columnist, and editorial writer for LNP Media. A graduate of Franklin & Marshall College, she is a lifetime resident of Lancaster County.