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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Researchers around the world are working to determine just how contagious the Omicron COVID-19 variant is and if the current vaccines will be effective against it. 

The virus strain was first identified in South Africa and has spread rapidly though there are no known cases so far in the U.S.

While studies are underway, health officials are urging people to protect themselves by getting vaccinated and getting booster shots there are still a lot of people in Alabama who are not fully vaccinated.

Looking at vaccination rates statewide in Alabama, the Alabama Department of Public Health reports 46 percent of residents are fully vaccinated. That’s 2.1 million people vaccinated.

The North Alabama region is mostly below the state’s total.

Madison County turns out to be an outlier, with 48% of county residents fully vaccinated. It’s the only county in the region above the statewide vaccination rate of 46%.

Colbert and Limestone counties are both at 44%.

Morgan County is at 41% and Lauderdale County reports 40% of its residents are fully vaccinated.

News 19 found five counties haven’t reached even 40& in terms of fully vaccinated population.

Marshall County is at 39%, Franklin County is at 38%  and Lawrence County has 37% of its residents fully vaccinated.  

At the bottom of the list, Jackson County is at 35% and DeKalb County reports just one-third of its population, 33%, is fully vaccinated.

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the UAB Center for Infectious Diseases, said low vaccination rates are a concern in the face of a new COVID-19 variant.

“One of the reasons people think that South Africa was a site of emergence is that it has not had access to vaccines the way that we have in the United States,” she said. “In fact, less than probably 20% of people are vaccinated in South Africa. And when you have places where vaccination coverage is so low, they are fantastic setups for exactly this type of mutation, it happened. And that’s what we’ve been saying all along, this is not magic. We’ve been talking about how places with low vaccine coverage are going to be the most vulnerable to the emergence of these new variants.”

Madison County’s 48% is the highest vaccination rate among Alabama’s largest counties. Jefferson County reports 47% of its residents are fully vaccinated, Mobile County is at 43% and Montgomery County is at 40%.