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Here’s why health experts say now is the ‘perfect time’ to get the updated COVID-19 booster shot

Utah’s state immunization director has had to wait for his shot because of lingering coronavirus symptoms

SHARE Here’s why health experts say now is the ‘perfect time’ to get the updated COVID-19 booster shot
Nurse Cathy Martin administers a COVID-19 booster shot to Annie Park at the Kearns Library in Kearns on Sept. 29, 2022.

Nurse Cathy Martin administers a COVID-19 booster shot to Annie Park at the Kearns Library in Kearns on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. It’s not too late for adults and children as young as 5 years old to be protected against COVID-19 for Thanksgiving and other holiday celebrations this winter by rolling up their sleeves for an updated booster shot, according to health experts.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

Less than 8% of all Utahns are considered up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations, according to the Utah Department of Health and Human Services.

But health experts say it’s not too late for adults and children as young as 5 years old to be protected against COVID-19 for Thanksgiving and other holiday celebrations this winter by rolling up their sleeves for the latest booster shot, the first targeted at currently circulating versions of the virus.

“Scientifically, I’m thinking now is a perfect time to get it,” said Rich Lakin, the state health and human services department’s immunizations director. Based on the two to three weeks it can take for immunity to build up, he said an updated booster dose now means a high level of protection once the holiday arrives.

Even before families sit down together for a Thanksgiving meal, Lakin said they’re likely to have been subjected to extra exposure to the virus, since “we all know that before Thanksgiving, people are going to be shopping. They’re going to be getting closer together. It’s going to be colder.”

COVID-19 cases are already starting to climb, with the state reporting the seven-day average case count rose nearly 14% over the past week, to just over 346. The seven-day average of new hospital admissions for the virus jumped, too, from less than 16 to 18 a day, just over a 13% increase.

The state department of health and human services also reported another nine Utahns have lost their lives to COVID-19 since the last update posted to coronavirus.utah.gov a week ago, bringing the death toll from the virus in Utah to 5,065.

The increased immunity should last not just through Christmas and New Years but all winter. he said, from what’s known as a bivalent booster shot because it also continues to target the original COVID-19 strain in addition to the versions of the omicron variant labeled BA.4 and BA.5 that are responsible for most cases in the U.S.

Updated booster shots have been approved by the federal government for adults and children as young as 5 years old, as long as it’s been two months or more since they’ve received the initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, available for anyone at least 6 months old.

People are considered up to date on their vaccinations if they’re 5 and older and have gotten the update booster, or if they’re younger than 5 and and have completed the initial vaccination series. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 7.3% of Americans age 5 or older have received the updated booster shot.

Low booster uptake ‘frustrating’ to FDA official

Hilary Marston, chief medical officer for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, expressed concern in an interview with Scientific American posted this week about the low uptake for the updated booster shots that became available at the start of September.

“Would I like to see the numbers higher? Absolutely. And I think any health care worker would and anybody who’s been following this pandemic very closely. As a health care worker, boy, I feel for those who are in the emergency rooms on the front lines,” Marston said.

Those health workers are “going to be there to take care of you if you do get sick, of course, but it is just such a strain,” she said. “And it is frustrating, because we have tools, we have more than we could have possibly hoped for at the beginning of this pandemic. And it’s frustrating to see the boosters not getting into arms.”

Marston called the updated shots “the single best thing that you can do to protect yourself against this virus,” and urged everyone eligible to get them. She said those who are hospitalized or dying from COVID-19 are “overwhelmingly people who have either not been vaccinated at all or have not been boosted.”

Lakin is optimistic that Utahns’ interest in the booster shots will start heading up soon.

“It’s low everywhere. I think people have vaccine fatigue right now. As we move into fall, we’re asking them to get a flu vaccine. We’re asking them to get another, bivalent booster. There’s been a lot of boosters,” he said. “We just need to be patient, and as the season gets closer to winter, I think we’ll start to see an increase.”

Why Utah’s state immunization director had to wait for his booster shot

The state health and human services department’s immunization director has been waiting to get his updated COVID-19 booster shot due to lingering symptoms from a breakthrough case of the virus over the summer, including losing his senses of taste and smell.

It’s recommended that people who’ve had COVID-19 wait three months before getting the booster shot, since they have some natural immunity following an infection. Lakin said he plans to get both an updated COVID-19 booster shot and his annual flu vaccination this week.

“You know, the virus can do this to you,” he said, describing himself as fortunate because he didn’t suffer damage to his lungs or other organs. But Lakin said he expects to have to live with the “weird” effects of his long COVID-19 for a year or more since so little is known about treatment.

For those still questioning the need for the updated COVID-19 booster, his message was clear.

“The risk of a vaccine is very minimal compared to the risk of the virus itself. And you just don’t know if you get COVID if you’re going to be one of those individuals who get serious complications,” Lakin said, crediting the vaccines with saving millions of lives.

“I just think people need to remember that this pandemic is not over. It’s going to continue for a while,” he cautioned. “The best thing to do is protect yourself, and you can do that with the vaccine.”