As the coronavirus pandemic drags on, so too does response to COVID-19 vaccinations among residents.
During a live question-and-answer session on Facebook, Dr. Annette Mercatante, St. Clair County’s medical health officer, said the county was still seeing 200 to 300 first doses provided per week — mirroring an estimate she referenced last week that marked a slight decline from 300 to 400 doses.
Jim Kaski, a local pharmacist who also chairs the Blue Water Immunization Partnership said in an interview Tuesday, that overall vaccination trend was unusual.
“It goes down, takes a little dip, but that’s also very much a warning sign for us, too,” he said. “That when we see that dip, we have to ramp up our sense of urgency for people to get the vaccine. We don’t want to take our foot off the gas, you know, so that is an important thing to consider.”
But as news booster shots and the latest eligibility for younger children emerges, plenty of other questions may be on residents’ minds.
Where can we still get vaccinated?
Health officials have pointed to a variety of options to vet vaccinated against the virus, as well as influenza with that season getting underway, including at the health department and pharmacies across the area. Most locations encourage appointments.
There were more than 30 locations listed within a 25-mile radius of Port Huron, according to the tracker on Vaccines.gov.
The county health department also allows residents to schedule appointments online and lists additional resources.
Kaski also pointed to another drive-through option early next month for first and second doses, well as COVID booster and flu shots. The clinic iis set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 6, at the Tri-Hospital EMS Center at Wadhams Road and Horseshoe Trail in Kimball Township.
“We had the last one there and it was a huge success,” he said. “We’re going to go ahead and offer another one. It’s out nearby HomeTown Pharmacy. So, it’s kind of a super drive-through clinic.”
For more locally on COVID and vaccine options, visit www.stclaircounty.org.
How common have booster doses been locally?
As of Oct. 25, a total of 4,647 additional or booster doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered.
But on Thursday, Mercatante clarified the difference between third doses of the vaccine and boosters.
She said a “third dose” for the mRNA vaccines are given to those who are immunocompromised “because we don’t think the two doses a month apart are enough to give them that full primary series.”
A booster comes several months later, depending on whether the recipient received the Modern or Pfizer vaccines or Johnson & Johnson for that first round.
Mercatante said the “bottom line” was plenty of people over 18 could qualify to get the latter.
Guidance updated this month for people who are eligible for a booster, according to state and federal health authorities, includes those who are over age 65 overall and those over 18 but with an underlying medical condition or at a high risk of COVID-19 through where they work or live, such as in a long-term care setting.
To qualify, at least six months should have passed since their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, and two months since their Johnson & Johnson shot.
However, those who are immunocompromised can receive their third dose of Pfizer or Moderna at least 28 days after the second.
Kaski, who’s also president of the St. Clair County Pharmacists Association, called booster shots “the thing that’s on most people’s minds” right now, citing eligibility criteria and which vaccines to get as common questions.
“You are able to mix the vaccines now,” he said. “So, you can mix the mRNAs — it doesn’t matter if you got Moderna or Pfizer or vice versa. … You can actually get one of the mRNA vaccines to go with the Johnson & Johnson as a booster.”
Mercatante said if someone’s first installment of vaccine was J & J, it’s recommended they seek out one of the mRNA vaccines for their booster, calling it “a little more robust as far as the reduction in hospitalizations and severe illness.”
The health officer said the county has been “fast and furious with doses” on boosters, despite slightly lower first-dose numbers.
For the week of Sept. 25, there were 158. Then, for the month with weeks ending from Oct. 2-23, there were 828, 837, 676 and 1,008 additional vaccine doses given, respectively.
“What we really need to do to slow transmission is get some of the unvaccinated vaccinated,” Mercatante said Thursday. “That’s still our primary goal.”
said he’d recently touched base with pharmacies at many of the local Walgreens, CVS, RiteAid, Kroger and Meijer sites on the topic. They hadn’t seen a huge rush, he said, but had been busy.
“They’re getting more and more inquiries about it,” he said. “More people are just walking in and getting the shot. Some of the pharmacists are requesting that you schedule it online with their pharmacy system.”
What about getting kids under 12 vaccinated?
The committee that advises the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on vaccine regulations recommended the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 5- to 11-years-old this week.
Mercatante said the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will weigh in within days before the “final guidelines for who can get the vaccine” next are set, though “some pediatric offices” and other health care providers in the area could begin receiving doses soon.
“We are perched and ready for shipment probably as soon as next week,” she told residents on Thursday.
There were no special clinics yet planned, including in schools, for pediatric COVID vaccines. Mercatante said it’d been discussed, but that they were focusing on access through regular physicians and health care offices by appointment.
“Because I think there are a lot of considerations when you give pediatric vaccines. It’s not off the table, but at this point, there’s no immediate plans to do it,” she said.
Mercatante also said it will be several weeks before other appointments could be set through the health department.
As vaccinations increase, so do breakthrough cases, health data shows
During Thursday’s Facebook live session, Mercatante said the rate of breakthrough cases have risen as vaccinations do, citing state data, though proportionally COVID shots still “significantly” reduced the burden and risk of serious illness.
“That’s just the math, but vaccination effectiveness still appears to be very robust and worthwhile,” she said.
With the fully vaccinated population across Michigan at just over 53%, those who were immunized accounted for just 24% to 29% of all cases, hospitalizations and deaths related to the virus.
Between Sept. 20 and Oct. 19, according to the state, there were 24,725 breakthroughs of 101,871 total cases, 428 of 1,453 total hospitalizations, and 142 of all 519 deaths.
Contact Jackie Smith at (810) 989-6270 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jackie20Smith.