WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — Despite the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine, the virus remains prevalent in the North Country as the region nears the holiday season.

As more age groups become eligible to receive certain COVID vaccines, local health experts are working to answer questions from North Country residents and address concerns.

This is through a newly launched online webform on the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization website, which includes insight from Community Health Center of the North Country and Samaritan Medical Center

The partnership involves a wide array of healthcare experts from Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. Local residents can go online to ask vaccine questions where a local health provider will respond to the inquiry within 24 to 48 hours.

According to Director of Communications, Government Relations, and Marketing at the Community Health Center, Raymond Babowicz, addressing questions is important as children ages 5 to 11 are now eligible for the vaccine and the region’s vaccination rate remains one of the lowest in the state.

“Whether we’re talking about the adult population that still needs to be vaccinated, or certainly now that our children can be vaccinated with it being approved for five and up now, we understand that there are questions. We understand that there are concerns,” Babowicz said. “But we want the decision on whether you get vaccinated, the decision of whether you get your kids vaccinated, we want that decision to be based on facts.”

Addressing concerns and hesitancies to get the vaccine, Babowicz emphasized that the decision for one to get vaccinated, or one’s children should be based on facts, which is what the online webform aims to accomplish as providers will give medical and scientific information to assist individuals in making decisions.

“I know those hesitancies and those concerns go up a notch when we’re talking about our children are the most important things in our lives. But again, we want you to base your decision on whether to get them vaccinated on the facts and not just on the emotions and the politics,” he added.

Reflecting back on the COVID surge the North Country experienced during the 2020 holiday season, Babowicz said this information is especially crucial to discuss as the region rapidly approaches the holiday season.

“The COVID fatigue that exists in our communities right now is understandable. For almost two years, all we’ve been talking about for the most part is COVID and, and getting back to normal,” Babowicz expressed. “But that’s true and we need to get these vaccination levels up to where they need to be.”

The webform is available on the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization website.