Waseca County has begun administering third COVID-19 shots to eligible residents.
Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent announcement that it was recommending an additional dose for moderately to severely immunocompromised people, the Public Health Department has gotten to work distributing.
Right off the bat, Waseca County Public Health Director Sarah Berry wanted to clarify to anybody confused about the difference between a third dose and a “booster” shot. The booster is a third dose for the general population still under the process of review by the Food and Drug Administration. The third doses that have been administered under this new phase thus far are strictly meant for individuals with weakened immune systems that cannot fight off the virus as effectively as those with healthy immune systems.
Third doses are not yet recommended by the CDC for the rest of the population. Those “boosters” are something people will begin to hear more about this fall.
Immunocompromised individuals, though benefiting from the vaccine, have not “necessarily taken all of the instruction from the vaccine to be quick in their response,” Berry said. This is why this group, though only comprising about 3% of the adult population — including about 115,000 Minnesota residents — make up a large portion of “breakthrough” infections, in which vaccinated individuals become sick with the virus that causes COVID-19.
People eligible for the third shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, include those receiving active cancer treatment, those who have received organ or stem cell transplants and are taking medicine to suppress their immune system, individuals with moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency and others.
“These third doses don’t mean that the vaccine isn’t effective,” Berry said. “It’s more that this person’s immune conditions make the third dose necessary to get the kind of response that would prevent that infection. These are very vulnerable people … so we would want to make sure they have the protection they need.”
In addition to Waseca County Public Health having received inquiries about the third dose, Berry said that providers at the local Public Health Department and elsewhere have already begun directly notifying eligible patients to bring them in for it.
In terms of side effects, the response to the third dose, she added, should be similar to the previous ones.
With 56.1% of Waseca County residents who are eligible for the vaccine being fully vaccinated, according to the Minnesota Department of Health, and the rate of vaccination having fallen, Berry expressed concern about how the county will be impacted by COVID-19 going forward.
Waseca County’s hospitalization rate in August, said Berry, was higher than at any other time in the pandemic, with eight residents having been admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) from complications related to COVID-19 that month alone. The highest number of COVID-related ICU admissions previously was in November, when four residents were admitted.
“We are really in a tough spot right now, and I am really concerned for the health and safety of our residents,” Berry said.
Given that the vaccine remains the best way to prevent hospitalization, Berry said that Waseca County Public Health is keeping a close eye on vaccination rates and case counts, and hoping to make sure that the recent spike in hospitalizations in the county doesn’t become a trend. That said, she noted that the county is currently on track to exceed the hospitalization rates of August by the end of September.
“I know that there was a lot of reassurance when the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) moved from emergency use authorization into full approval, and I am hopeful that that continues to make trust in the vaccine more prevalent in our community,” Berry said. “We know that the vaccine is the best way to prevent infection.”