MURRAY – While the Biden administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced plans this week for COVID-19 booster shots to be administered to fully vaccinated people, they are still in the early stages. The Calloway County Health Department and Murray-Calloway County Hospital say they will be watching as the rollout occurs and will be planning accordingly.
According to CNBC, U.S. health leaders say they are preparing to offer booster shots to all eligible Americans beginning the week of Sept. 20. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock, White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci and other health officials on Wednesday outlined the plan, which calls for a third dose eight months after people get their second shot of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
Though the plan is in the very early stages, it is already not without controversy. CNBC also reported that many scientists have “sharply” criticized the distribution plan, saying that the data provided by federal health officials wasn’t compelling enough to recommend third shots to most of the public at this time.
Other criticisms have come from overseas. According to the New York Times, the Africa director at the World Health Organization, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said the decisions by the U.S. and other wealthy nations to start administering coronavirus booster shots “make a mockery of vaccine equity” when the African continent is still struggling to get vaccine supplies.
Linda Cavitt, the interim director of public health for the CCHD, said she is currently reviewing the new information sent to her by the CDC, as well as any new information she finds on the CDC and Kentucky Department for Public Health websites in the coming days. She said she would likely meet soon with community partners to discuss the possibility of setting up new vaccine clinics in the future.
“I believe that if everyone is going to be doing this, we need to get the plan together,” Cavitt said. “We’ve already done mass vaccination clinics, and I don’t know when all of those things (regarding third COVID shots) are going to fit into place, but I know we will do everything we can to meet the needs of the public.”
While many local residents have still not been vaccinated, Cavitt has no doubt that there will be some interest among those who are currently fully vaccinated when the federal government goes through with plans to distribute booster shots.
“I think the folks that took their first two shots — or one shot if they got the Johnson & Johnson — whichever they got, if they took the first go-round, then I think those folks will probably be the ones who will certainly be considering the third,” Cavitt said. “Now, we really need to also concentrate on those folks that have not had dose one. So we still want to push that as well, that if everybody is vaccinated, that would be great. And I realize that currently, there are folks that want to get vaccinated or parents that want their children to be vaccinated that don’t fit the criteria and we can’t vaccinate yet. So you also have that series of people to think about. We’re trying to think about everybody and move as quickly as we can, but everything takes a little time.”
According to Fox News, the American Academy of Pediatrics is urging the FDA to quickly expand authorization of COVID-19 vaccines to younger age groups, citing rising cases because of the Delta variant. Pfizer said it will request emergency approval for vaccinations of kids ages 5-11 by the end of September and also has plans to submit data on children aged 6 months to 5 years not long after that. Fox News reported that Moderna previously told the network it expects “to have a package that supports authorization in winter 2021/early 2022 for children under 12.
Cavitt said she had been watching the situation closely, but she had not heard anything new in the last few weeks on when vaccines for children under 12 might receive emergency authorization.
“I have not heard anything new on that, at this point,” she said. “I do have a couple of meetings this week and think that maybe that will be discussed, so I’m hopeful I will hear something, but I am not sure at this point when we will.”
Jerry Penner, CEO of MCCH, said that, at least at first, those third shots will likely be reserved for fully vaccinated people who are immunocompromised and have underlying health problems that make them more vulnerable to being infected with COVID-19.
“I know for the general population, there still hasn’t been a lot of guidance that has come out, but it’s really up to doctors to determine who should fall in that category,” Penner said.
Besides patients who are determined to have weaker immune systems, the first people who will be eligible will be people who received their vaccines earlier than the general population when the vaccines first became available in December and January. That group includes health care workers and first responders, Penner said.
“They were the first ones in the population to get the vaccination to start out with,” Penner said. “I think we were about two months ahead of everyone else, around January, while the general population didn’t start until March. We’re just kind of waiting for that guidance at this point, when it comes out. It’s still evolving, so I don’t want to get out in front of it and say, ‘This is what we’re doing.’
“But certainly there will be coordination just like we did before with Murray State and with the health department and with us here at the hospital trying to have a consolidated effort to make sure we’re taking care of the population. There are larger numbers (of COVID cases) out there, but it may be an easier rollout (than the initial mass vaccination site), where we could just do them with our physicians when people come in for their annual visits. There’s a gamut of ways we can attack this, and we’ll certainly be on the leading edge once it comes to the forefront.”
Penner said the hospital is currently quite busy, though there were only around 10 COVID patients as of Thursday, which was much better than the roughly 20 COVID patients that were hospitalized about a week-and-a-half ago. However, even without COVID, Penner said July and August have been much busier than those months are in a typical year, and he said he couldn’t explain why. As of Thursday, there were 87 patients being treated at MCCH, he said.
Even though Penner said caring for 10 COVID patients is “pretty good” compared to what the hospital could be facing, those cases are very resource-intensive. He said that on Monday, all of MCCH’s ventilators were in use, which was the first time that had happened since the beginning of the pandemic. He also said that the hospital’s oxygen supply is sometimes having to be refilled every three or four days, when it would normally be refilled every 35 days or so.
Penner said that although the number fluctuates depending on a number of factors – such as maintenance – MCCH has about five ventilators that can be used for patients on an average day. He said anesthesia machines can double as ventilators and transport ventilators can also be used if needed, bringing the number up to 15-17 working ventilators in an emergency.