As the Food and Drug Administration has approved booster shots for the Pfizer vaccine, information on the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson boosters is still pending, but expected soon. KSUT speaks with Liane Jollon of San Juan Basin Public Health about the latest on boosters and the recent surge in cases across the state.

Interview Transcription:

Sarah Flower  00:00
This past week, Colorado saw the highest number of those hospitalized with COVID-19, since 2020. Liane, this is not something that’s unique, even to Colorado, we just reported that San Juan Regional Medical Center is also seeing a gigantic surge in their cases. This region is certainly seeing a high number of hospitalizations, let’s talk about it.

Liane Jollon  00:23
We are seeing hospitalizations go up here in Colorado and in many surrounding states. And in fact, there are states that are right next door to Colorado that have gone into crisis standards of care, meaning that to some degree, health care is rationed in the state, because there is not enough health care or hospital beds to go around. So what we really want to do is avoid that happening here in the state of Colorado.

Flower  00:54
But it is happening here, I mean, we’re under like 10% capacity for ICU beds, and otherwise. So what’s that magic trick that we have to try to keep our hospital capacity and our healthcare safe?

Jollon  01:08
The hospitals in Colorado are working to transfer patients across the state and to kind of load balance the needs with the existing capacity. But you’re absolutely right. There are regions of the state that are reporting operating at above 100% of capacity for weeks on end. Here locally, we’re reporting that we’re operating at 96 to 100% of ICU capacity. They’re intermittent presentations of shortages in regular hospital beds. So this is absolutely happening in Southwest Colorado, is happening across the western slope, it’s happening across the state. We have not as a state had to go into what is considered crisis standards of care, like some neighboring states have gone into because so far the system has been able to treat everyone who has needed care. But it has required an entire extra level of working together as a system to again move patients around, move staffing around and use surge capacity planning.

Flower  02:21
This past week, there has been a lot of information released on booster shots with the Johnson & Johnson, with Moderna. Pfizer has been approved for their booster shot. It is hard to keep up with this ever changing information. Liane, let’s break down what we know here today on boosters.

Jollon  02:40
What we know today is the FDA has authorized and the CDC has recommended boosting a Pfizer vaccine for individuals who are 65 and up, individuals who are in long term care settings, and adults who either have underlying medical conditions or are in professions with higher risk of exposure. So this is what’s happening right now for the Pfizer vaccine. Just last week, an FDA committee met to look at the same information from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. So far, that committee is recommending that Moderna and Johnson & Johnson receive very similar authorizations and recommendations to what is already out for Pfizer. But that process is not complete yet. First, the FDA committee meets, than the FDA discusses with a committee at CDC, and then the CDC makes a final recommendation. That recommendation goes to the state of Colorado, and then at that time, these boosters become available for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson recipients if all of those things continue to move forward. So what we know as of right now is that yes, there are boosters available and recommended for individuals with Pfizer series. And we are close, expecting in the next coming really days and weeks to learn more about the Moderna booster and the Johnson & Johnson booster recommendations.

Flower  04:20
Colorado has also in the last couple of weeks really skyrocketed from having low case rates, compared to the rest of the nation, to being in the top 15. Today, this feels alarming and like a switch has been flipped.

Jollon  04:38
This is a really big jump for Colorado. So up until just over a week ago we were kind of a bottom 10 state for transmission rates, and in one week we jumped from bottom 10 to top 15. So this really indicates a couple of things. One is is that Colorado cases are increasing at this time. But then other states that have experienced some tremendous Delta waves are now seeing the backside of that wave, and they’re coming down. So this is a pretty, I mean, I would call this a sea change to go from a bottom 10 state to a top 15 state. And if we remember what happened this time last year, October was the month where the state of Colorado started to see sustained increases across Colorado. We locally were pretty well insulated from this beginning of the surge, and we were almost ran about four to six weeks behind the rest of the state. So we saw our initiation of the winter wave mid November. And by Thanksgiving, we were really seeing a steep steep increase that then continued throughout the holiday season. So what we’re hoping is that we are not going to repeat that pattern this year. But again, what everyone is doing is watching the numbers really closely to say how did we go from, you know, a bottom 10 transmission rate state to a top 15 in one week? Why is our positivity rate high in our testing, which is usually an early indicator that more cases are coming and where do we go from here. So we really encourage people to watch this news carefully, and adjust behavior accordingly if we start to see locally or across the state a surge like we experienced this time last year.

Flower  06:31
Liane Jollon, Executive Director of San Juan basin Public Health, anything else you’d like to add for our listeners today?

Jollon  06:38
We’re recommending a layered approach to prevention. So number one, get your vaccine if you’re eligible. And number two, if our transmission rates start to climb as steeply as they may be indicating that they’re going, mask up in public indoor spaces, maintain six foot distance, do as many activities as you can outdoors, and you know have safe holidays. Halloween is coming right up. Last year we saw our surge just a few weeks after Halloween. So really do your best to have a safe holiday season. There are ways to celebrate Halloween and start new traditions with your family that are less likely to spread infection. We can do this.