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County Health Pushes Boosters But Faces Hurdles

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By Jorge Casuso

September 22, 2023 -- LA County began aggressively pushing the new COVID-19 boosters this week amid insurance snags, supply delays and resistance from a more skeptical public, according to recent reports.

Public Health officials on Friday urged everyone over six months old to receive at least one dose of the new booster "even if they received an earlier vaccine, had COVID-19 previously or have never been vaccinated against COVID-19 before," officials said.

In addition to widespread distribution by pharmacies, the County is rolling out the updated vaccines in public parks, health centers, nursing facilities and at "mobile sites" throughout the County of more than 10 million.

"Immunity to COVID infections wanes over time and with new variant strains circulating, there is increased potential for infection," officials said.

But across the country, there are reports the rollout has been rocky, since insurance companies must now pay for shots that for three years were free during the coronavirus emergency.

"Some insurers have balked at covering the vaccines, with people arriving at shot appointments only to be told that they’ll have to pay $100 or more out of pocket for the jab," HealthDay News reported Friday.

"And in other places booster appointments simply aren’t available due to supply shortages."

In addition to the delays and glitches, health officials face a public that has grown more resistant to coronavirus vaccines.

This past winter, despite a major vaccination push by the County, data showed that only 22 percent of the 5.5 million eligible people over the age of 12 received the bivalent booster.

The problem was nationwide. The booster approved last summer was taken by only 17 percent of Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The CDC also reported that nearly 82 million COVID-19 vaccine doses distributed nationwide between December 2020 and late May 2022 were thrown out.

With hospitalizations holding steady at near record lows, the current push could be difficult, especially amid reports that the updated boosters were approved with little testing and have shown only limited effectiveness.

The latest Pfizer booster received FDA approval after being evaluated against other vaccines using 10 mice in each group, while Moderna's new booster was tested on eight mice per group and had a two-week trial with 50 people.

In a recent piece that appeared in Real clear Science, Robert M Kaplan, a faculty member at Stanford University's Clinical Excellence Research Center expressed three concerns about the evidence Pfizer and Moderna presented to the FDA.

"First, much of the original data comes from mouse studies," wrote Kaplan, a former associate director of the National Institutes of Health. "Data from a few mice don’t inspire confidence the booster is ready for distribution to hundreds of millions of humans."

"Second, neither pharmaceutical company used measures that are meaningful to patients. The companies offered no evidence that the new boosters will keep us alive or out of the hospital."

"Third, serious COVID-19 has been labeled an epidemic of the unvaccinated. Yet, the overwhelming risk factor for serious COVID is advanced age," Kaplan wrote.

Last week data presented at the CDC’s meeting show that "the effectiveness of the bivalent vaccine against hospitalization declines from 65 percent in the first two months after the shot to just 22 percent by four to six months," according to The Washington Post.

"The booster will reduce infections, but this effect wanes quickly," Dr. Leana Wen wrote in her medical column. "Two months after completing the initial vaccine series, vaccinated children only had a 16 to 24 percent reduction in urgent-care visits compared with unvaccinated kids."

Over the past yer, many health experts have questioned the benefits of vaccinating children and youngrer adults, with several European nations, including the UK, tailoring previous COVID booster shots to those under 50 only if they are at high risk of severe illness.

Instead, LA County Health officials are promoting a Vaccine for Children program that "covers updated COVID-19 vaccination in addition to other recommended childhood vaccines, including those that are required for school."

Parents are directed to a website "to find a location that is convenient for them."

Three weeks ago, the Biden administration increased its orders for the pediatric version of the new COVID vaccines from 14.5 million doses at $1.3 billion to 20 million doses for $1.7 billion, according to a report in the New York Post.

That's more than four times as many pediatric doses as were used last year, the Post reported.

The current vaccination push comes as data show LA County remains in the CDC Low Hospital Admission Level with 7.6 weekly COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 people for the latest seven-day period ending September 9.

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