As the coronavirus pandemic continues, so does the response to COVID-19 vaccinations among residents.
During a live question-and-answer session on Facebook, Dr. St. Clair County medical health officer Annette Mercatante said the county was still receiving 200 to 300 initial doses per week — a reflection of an estimate she referenced last week that saw a slight drop from 300 to 400 doses.
Jim Kaski, a local pharmacist who is also president of the Blue Water Immunization Partnership, said in an interview Tuesday that the general vaccination trend was unusual.
“It’s going down, taking a little dip, but that’s also a very warning sign for us,” he said. “That when we see that dip, we need to step 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’s important to consider.”
But as more news reports come and the latest suitability for younger children emerges, a host of other questions may arise among residents.
Where can we get vaccinated?
Health officials have pointed to a variety of options for getting vets vaccinated against the virus, as well as flu as that season gets underway, including at the health department and pharmacies across the area. Most locations encourage appointments.
More than 30 locations were listed within a 40-mile radius of Port Huron, according to the tracker on Vaccines.gov.
The provincial health department also allows residents to schedule appointments online and lists additional resources.
Kaski also pointed to another drive-through option for first and second doses, as well as COVID booster and flu shots early next month. The clinic is set up Saturday, November 6 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Tri-Hospital EMS Center on Wadhams Road and Horseshoe Trail in Kimball Township.
“We had the last one there and it was a huge success,” he said. “We’ll go ahead and offer another one. It is near HomeTown Pharmacy. So it’s a kind of super drive-through clinic.”
For more local on COVID and vaccine options, visit www.stclaircounty.org.
How often have booster doses been topical?
As of October 25, a total of 4,647 additional or booster doses of the 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 is given to those who are immunocompromised “because we don’t think the two doses spaced one 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 that many people over the age of 18 could qualify to get the latter.
Guidelines updated this month for people who qualify for a booster, according to state and federal health authorities, include those generally over age 65 and those over 18 but with an underlying medical condition or at high risk to COVID-19 by where they work or live, such as in a long-term care setting.
To be eligible, at least six months must 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 is also president of the St. Clair County Pharmacists Association, currently called booster shots “the thing most people think about,” citing eligibility criteria and which vaccines to get as frequently asked questions.
“You can now mix the vaccines,” he said. “So you can mix the mRNAs – it doesn’t matter if you have Moderna or Pfizer or vice versa. … You can even get one of the mRNA vaccines that go with the Johnson & Johnson as a booster.”
Mercatante said if someone’s first part of the vaccine was J&J, it’s recommended that they look for one of the mRNA vaccines for their booster, calling it “a little more robust in terms of reducing hospitalizations and serious illness.”
The health official said the province was “fast and furious with doses” on boosters, despite slightly lower initial dose numbers.
For the week of September 25, there were 158. Thereafter, for the month of weeks ending October 2-23, additional vaccine doses were given 828, 837, 676 and 1,008, respectively.
“What we really need to do to slow the transmission is get some of the unvaccinated people vaccinated,” Mercatante said Thursday. “That is still our primary goal.”
said he had recently been in touch with pharmacies at many of the local sites of Walgreens, CVS, RiteAid, Kroger and Meijer on the subject. They hadn’t seen a huge rush, he said, but had been busy.
“They’re getting more and more questions about it,” he said. “More people just walk in and get the picture. Some pharmacists ask you to schedule it online with their pharmacy system.”
What about vaccinating children under 12?
The committee advising the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on vaccine regulation this week recommended the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.
Mercatante said the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will decide within days before the “final guidelines for who can receive the vaccine” are set, although “some pediatric offices” and other health care providers in the area could soon be receiving doses.
“We’re settled and ready to ship, probably as early as next week,” she told residents on Thursday.
No special clinics had yet been planned, including in schools, for pediatric COVID vaccines. Mercatante said it had been discussed but they were focusing on access through regular doctors and care offices by appointment.
“Because I think there are a lot of considerations in giving pediatric vaccines. It’s not off the table, but at the moment there are no immediate plans to do it,” she said.
Mercatante also said it will be several weeks before other appointments can be made through the health department.
As vaccines increase, so do breakthrough cases, health data shows
During Thursday’s Facebook live session, Mercatante said the number of breakthrough cases has risen, as have vaccinations, citing state data, though proportionally COVID shots still “significantly” reduced the burden and risk of serious illness.
“That’s just the math, but the effectiveness of vaccination still seems very robust and worthwhile,” she said.
With the fully vaccinated population in Michigan at just over 53%, those who were immunized accounted for only 24% to 29% of all cases, hospitalizations and deaths related to the virus.
Between September 20 and October 19, there were 24,725 breakthroughs out of a total of 101,871 cases, 428 of 1,453 total hospitalizations, and 142 of all 519 deaths, according to the state.
Contact Jackie Smith at (810) 989-6270 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @Jackie20Smith.