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Port Arthur Health Department battles misinformation with town hall

Residents and health experts gathered at the Texas Artist Museum in Port Arthur in an attempt to combat misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 vaccinations.

The town hall, hosted Thursday evening by the Port Arthur Health Department, comes in the wake of a spike in local positive cases and hospitalizations.

The health department reported 193 diagnoses with 165 of those were unvaccinated individuals.

“COVID cases are truly on the rise,” PAHD Director Judith Smith said. “… We do not want to go back to where we were at this time last year.”

Those who attended the town hall were not in opposition to the vaccine, but instead used the gathering as a way to better inform themselves to spread the word and battle misinformation.

Smith said last year’s positive cases skewed toward older demographics with underlying health conditions. New data shows younger people becoming infected at higher rates.

“The main numbers are the 20s, the 30s and the 40s,” she said. “This is the group, that our nurses can testify, have a lot of questions and frequent social media. They are getting a lot of different theories from other people.”

Dr. Oscar Enriquez talks to the public at a town hall meeting in Port Arthur. (Chris Moore/The News)

Dr. Oscar Enriquez fielded questions from those in attendance and several who asked through the social media broadcast.

The most frequently asked questions involved how the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines worked.

“They are what we call Messenger RNA and they are the most common vaccines in the United States,” Enriquez said. “… That is a long message that is given to our body when we are injected. It goes to our cell, which is where the protein production happens… This produces and immune reaction.”

The doctor said the “spike protein” causes an immune reaction and great antibodies.

“I would like to associate Messenger RNA with newly recruited soldiers,” Enriquez said. “They are going to the boot camp. They are trained to produce antibodies and will be ready for when the actual virus enters the body.”

The doctor also dispelled myths regarding rates in which there are adverse reactions to the vaccine.

Officials also said getting the vaccine does not guarantee that someone will not catch the coronavirus but will likely significantly reduce one’s reaction to catching it.

Smith said church leaders have been helpful with getting information out to the community. Kevin Domingo, pastor of Rock Island MBC, said he is seeing young people have a super hero syndrome and believe they are better off just getting the antibodies from fighting off the virus.

“They have reckless behavior and aren’t getting the vaccine and not wearing the masks,” he said. “We have to get the message out about protection for yourself. The vaccine is another layer of protection…If you get (the virus), and I am not saying you will, but if you do, it will help you fight it off.”

Smith said she has seen young and otherwise healthy people suffer serious symptoms from the virus.

“They were young and healthy and when they got the virus and it immediately went to COVID pneumonia,” she said. “You cannot just think that you won’t get sick.”

Smith said she also fears that the country and the area will see another spike when school starts back up in a few weeks. Kids 12 and older can receive the vaccination, but the vaccine not being available to children younger than 12 puts the responsibility on parents to get vaccinated to help prevent the spread, Smith said.

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