Merced County Times Newspaper
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Waning vaccine protection result in booster plans

The highly contagious Delta Variant is spreading rapidly among the unvaccinated through communities with low vaccination rates such as Merced, and can make fully vaccinated people ill with breakthrough infections, health officials say.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, announced on Aug. 8, it would soon be decided whether coronavirus booster shots will be offered to all Americans eight months from the time they were fully vaccinated.

In that event, Collins believed that health care providers and people in nursing homes would be the first to be offered the boosters, and then older Americans, which is the same way the roll-out was managed for the initial doses.

The booster doses would only begin to be widely administered once the Food and Drug Administration officially approves the vaccines, an action expected to take place in the coming weeks as to the Pfizer vaccine.

Meanwhile, vaccine booster shots have already been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for those with weakened immune systems due to their higher risk of catching COVID and evidence that the vaccines’ effectiveness wanes over time.

According to the Merced County Department of Public Health, this group includes people with various health conditions that can weaken the immune system, including:  Recipients of organ or stem cell transplants; people with advanced or untreated HIV infection; those currently being treated for cancer; people who are taking some medications that weaken the immune system, and people with some other conditions.

Individuals are encouraged to talk with their healthcare providers if they have questions regarding an additional dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Local vaccine effort

The Merced County Department of Public Health reports that only 32.2 percent of all Merced County residents are fully vaccinated.

For the unvaccinated, taking the vaccine is the best way to avoid getting the disease and will help the community reach the goal of herd immunity, which is 80 percent fully vaccinated.

Dr. Kristynn Sullivan, Merced County’s supervising epidemiologist, told the Times, “The strongest protection against the Delta Variant and any other variant continues to be getting vaccinated, as well as following preventive measures to minimize exposure to COVID-19.  These include wearing a mask in public settings indoors, practicing social distancing and hand etiquette, and staying home when feeling sick.”

Individuals who have already been sick with the virus are still recommended to get the vaccine since no one knows exactly how long their natural immunity will last. For those who have been vaccinated and still got COVID, they don’t have as severe complications as those who were unvaccinated, according to Dr. Sullivan.

In fact, a CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published on Aug. 6 stated that “being unvaccinated was associated with 2.34 times the odds of reinfection, compared with being fully vaccinated.”

Current Delta Variant stats

Dr. Sullivan told the Times, “There is significant increase in both COVID cases and test positivity over this past weekend [Aug. 13 through Aug. 15].

“As of Tuesday, August 17, 2021, Merced County has identified and confirmed 116 Delta Variant cases, but at this point we are going to assume that everything is Delta because of the timeframe it takes to receive the results from the laboratories which identify the variant.

“We have seen an increased number of cases with children less than 18 years of age.  At the moment, approximately 22 percent of recent cases have been identified with children, whereas in previous waves only 11 percent of cases were identified with this age group.”

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