Following the approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration in August, local Public health officials said they have seen a slight uptick in those coming in to start the vaccination process.

Now, Steele County Public Health Director Amy Caron said they are getting everything in order to start providing the Pfizer booster shot. Though they haven’t officially been “given the green light” to start administering the third shot as a booster, Caron said they anticipate that direction to come later this month.

“We’re sort of suspended in wait mode right now,” Caron said. “But we are planning. We know there is a good supply out there and we definitely won’t have the same supply issues we had back in December and January when we had to go with opening it up to tiers of people.”

Though Caron said the booster shot is the next step in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, additional shots of both Pfizer and Moderna have been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a while now. Caron said the difference between the booster and an additional shot falls to who should get them and when.

“An additional shot is being recommended for those who are immuno-compromised 28 days or later after they receive their second dose,” she said. “We’ve been finding there hasn’t been any real uptake for those who are immuno-compromised, whether that be through chemotherapy or a suppressed immune system for a variety of reasons.”

Caron said the recommendation for people to get the Pfizer booster is to wait eight months from their second dose.

“Many studies have been happening to see what kind of antibodies people have and for how long they have them before they start wearing off a bit,” she said.

The plans for the COVID-19 boosters is that they will be incorporated into the weekly Wednesday clinics held at the Public Health office in Owatonna. Caron said they will be monitoring the traffic closely and, if they have to, will relocate to the Steele County Public Works building on Hoffman Drive/Old Hwy. 14.

“Right now, we have about 20 people per clinic coming in,” Caron said. “But we have that flexibility to operate and do large clinics again. I’ve already put my staff on notice that it could happen.”

Vaccine hesitancy

Though Caron said there has been vaccination hesitancy in Steele County, she is hoping people will continue to find comfort in the various studies and tests the COVID-19 vaccines have endured. According to Caron, the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 is now the “most studied immunization ever.”

“It has been given to so many people that it has allowed for a large amount of studies to be done,” Caron said. “You can’t really get much safer than that.”

Since the Pfizer vaccine became fully FDA approved, Caron said she has seen an uptick in children ages 12-15 getting the vaccine. As of this week, Caron said Steele County residents 16 and older are 65.8% fully vaccinated.

“It’s good,” she said. “But we can obviously do better.”

Overwhelming hospitals

While the Minnesota Department of Health has not been providing data that completely breaks down the new infections as far, as variants and whether or not the patient has been vaccinated, Caron said they can go off statewide data available, in order to assess the reality of the local situation.

“In the state of Minnesota, 85% or more of the new positive cases of COVID-19 are the delta variant,” Caron said. “Based on that number alone, we can assume that the delta variant has pretty much taken over.”

What Caron does know, however, is that the age group with the highest infection rate continues to be those 20-40 years old.

“It’s our workforce,” she said.

Though more children have tested positive for COVID-19 at the start of this school year than they did last year, at this time, Caron said they are not the majority of the new cases.

Because the cases continue to rise, Caron said they are seeing statewide trends of hospitals filling up — both with COVID-19 patients and other patients who may have put off getting medical help during the pandemic to the point that their conditions have worsened.

“Our hospital systems are overwhelmed,” Caron said. “Not only are the beds full, but there is less staff to take care of people … This vaccine is the best tool we have in our toolbox right now.”

Reach Associate Editor Annie Granlund at 507-444-2378 or follow her on Twitter @AnnieGranlund. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.

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