COVID Hospitalizations 1-04

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized a booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 12 to 15 this week, as schools open back up from the holiday break while the highly-contagious Omicron variant continues its spread across the country, and locally, unabated.

On Monday, the FDA approved the Pfizer vaccine booster for those ages 12 to 15, a move the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also signed off on this week. The FDA and CDC also shortened its recommendation time between finishing the first two vaccine shots and getting the booster to five months from six. The FDA and CDC also recommended an additional dose of the Pfizer vaccine 28 days after receiving a second shot for those ages 5 to 11 years old who are moderately or severely immunocompromised. 

The recommended wait time for boosters of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines remains the same, at six months and two months, respectively. 

As of now, only the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for all individuals ages 12 and older. 

"As we have done throughout the pandemic, we will continue to update our recommendations to ensure the best possible protection for the American people," said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a news release. "Following the FDA’s authorizations, today’s recommendations ensure people are able to get a boost of protection in the face of Omicron and increasing cases across the country, and ensure that the most vulnerable children can get an additional dose to optimize protection against Covid-19. If you or your children are eligible for a third dose or a booster, please go out and get one as soon as you can."

Data from studies in South Africa and the United Kingdom show that two doses of the mRNA vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna are only 35 percent effective at preventing infection from the Omicron variant. A vaccine booster dose was shown to improve the vaccines' effectiveness at preventing infection to 75 percent. 

The Alabama Department of Public Health announced on Monday that monoclonal antibodies will begin being shipped to states again this week after the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services had paused allocations of some antibodies in December that were found to be ineffective against the Omicron variant. 

In light of the variant's rise, the CDC also changed its recommendations last week for isolation and quarantine. The specifics of the reduction of time for quarantine can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2021/s1227-isolation-quarantine-guidance.html

"The Omicron variant is spreading quickly and has the potential to impact all facets of our society," said Walensky. "CDC’s updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses. These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives. Prevention is our best option: get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial and high community transmission, and take a test before you gather.”

Locally, hospitalizations of patients with Covid-19 continue to rise. As of Tuesday, 38 patients, with three on ventilators, were hospitalized with Covid-19 across East Alabama Health's campuses, up from only 10 hospitalized patients on Christmas Day. 

"The severity of illness does seem to be a little less with Omicron as indicated by the lower number of ventilators in use right now and only 6 of the 38 patients being in ICU,” said John Atkinson, East Alabama Health spokesman.

Many Auburn residents have been struggling to find at-home tests or appointments for Covid-19 testing as cases rise in the area. EAH, ADPH and the Lee County Emergency Management Agency have partnered in an effort to offer testing opportunities in the area, with two testing days scheduled for this weekend and two more next week. The testing days are Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Appointments are taken a day in advance and can be made by calling 334-528-4968.

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