Monday infectious disease specialist Dr. Steve Threlkeld told the media the COVID-19 vaccine is “ultimately the way out” of the pandemic, discussed herd immunity and when it’d be safe to gather again.

“Once we get people vaccinated twice, they are protected with 95 percent effectiveness, though it’s not perfect until enough people in the community and in the state and the nation get (the vaccine).”


Vaccination, he said, will help in two ways: it protects the public and protects the hospitals and healthcare workers.

“That is one of the principal jobs that we have and it protects the most likely people to get very sick and die of COVID-19. That will further de-stress the hospitals, if the people who are going to get the sickest aren’t getting sick at all, that’s going to take a lot of stress off of the system. That’s why the timeframe was built into the vaccine plans.”

Threlkeld spoke extensively of herd immunity and said it doesn’t begin until approximately 70 percent of the population has had the vaccine.

“We’ve gotta get to that 70 percent as quickly as we can before people die unnecessarily, but we have to get to 75 to 80 percent of people vaccinated to account for some failures.”

With the new variants of the virus, which are more contagious but not more deadly, Threlkeld said approximately 90 percent of the population will need to be vaccinated.

“It’s like with measles, you need more people vaccinated and those herd immunity numbers will rise. Even if the mortality rate isn’t higher, the death rate is higher because more people will get it.”

Comparing the vaccine to the virus, getting the vaccine is a ‘no-brainer’

He said getting the vaccine should be “a statistical no brainer” when the potential for side effects or death from the virus are compared to that of the vaccine.

“We’ve passed 360,000 deaths, and 50 people will have died while we’re standing here talking about the safety of the vaccine, down to zero deaths from the vaccine itself.”

Referencing a six-month study in Wuhan, China, where the virus originated, Threlkeld said approximately 76 percent of those who’ve been hospitalized with COVID had persistent side effects on follow-up.

“That’s more than three-quarters of people, over 90 million people across the world, are going to have a side effect. It’s one study, but it’s a reasonably large study. Compare those facts we see with the potential for side effects with the vaccine … if that’s your play, you’re probably not going to make it as a professional gambler. It’s just not a reasonable gamble, I’d think.”

The long-term effects of the virus and the vaccine

Also not a reasonable gamble, he said, is the chance younger people want to take with becoming infected with the virus.

“It looks more and more like a bad idea,” he said. “We don’t know the long-term problems.”

A study in San Antonio, Texas conducted on some of those who’ve died shows they have had “mini micro” hemorrhages in their brains and central nervous system.

“We don’t know what means long-term (for those who survive), or if it’s related to something like Alzheimer’s …”

What they know about the vaccine long-term, he said, is that there should not be any side effects.

“There is no history of a vaccine that doesn’t have any short-term side effects having long-term side effects pop up a year later with problems. The numbers are so staggeringly different between the risk of the vaccine and risk of infection that it would be foolhardly to worry about the vaccine all the time while exposing yourself … to an infection.”

Is it safe to gather after being vaccinated? 

Dr. Threlkeld said he is often asked if it’s safe to gather after people receive the first dose of the vaccination.

“We know that the vaccines are 95 percent effective in preventing you from getting a clinical illness, but the reason you can’t just say ‘do whatever you want to do!’ is there are, in fact, those 5 percent of people who have been clinically failed and get sick.”

Some of those who get sick will be less sick than they would have been without the vaccine because it protects against a severe illness in the same way the flu shot protects people against a severe illness.

“The vaccine protects people from any clinical illness in 95 percent of situations, but there is 5 percent who’ll get a milder illness and then can transmit it to someone else.”

He said three weeks after receiving the second dose of the vaccine it could be safe to gather in groups smaller than 10 if everyone has also received their second dose.

“They ask me, ‘Can I go out with my nursing friends?’ No, but you can go in with your nursing friends in a small group as long as everyone’s been vaccinated.”

Threlkeld hopes the idea of gathering again, and resuming normal life, will be an impetus for getting vaccinated and getting to herd immunity. He stressed that it was only one part of the solution, though.

“The vaccine will make you much safer, but the vaccine is only one weapon in our armament.”

Tipton County is currently vaccinating those in phases 1a1, 1a2, 1b and those over 75. There is no available vaccine, but the health department will resume scheduling appointments when the supply is replenished. To schedule an appointment, call 901-476-0235 or 731-421-6782 or visit register online for an appointment.

To date, 1,269 people (2.04%) in Tipton County have been vaccinated.

Surge coming later than predicted 

The surge predicted by experts to begin shortly after Christmas has not quite happened, but Threlkeld believes it’s still on the way.

“I fear we will still see the jump over the next week or so. I think the kids got it first, then they’ll give it to their grandparents. It will be into the second cycle before we’ll see the maximum impact of people who need to be hospitalized.”

The best indicator of how things are going, he said, are hospitalizations.

In Tipton County, the state lists hospitalizations at 117. Sources familiar with the numbers are not confident in that cumulative number for Tipton, however.

Are you planning to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

  • Yes (68%, 40 Votes)
  • No (24%, 14 Votes)
  • Undecided (8%, 5 Votes)

Total Voters: 59

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Echo Day
Author: Echo Day

Echo Day is an award-winning journalist, photographer and designer. She is currently The Leader's managing editor.