Covid-19 booster shots are available, but who is eligible to receive them and when? In today’s Covid-19 update, Sarah Flower speaks with Liane Jollon, from San Juan Basin Public Health to help clarify some of those questions and to see if waning vaccine effectiveness is causing an increase in cases around the region.

Interview Transcript:

Sarah Flower  00:00
Hi, I’m Sarah Fower with KSUT News. Today we are joined by Liane Jollon, Executive Director of San Juan Basin Public Health for our weekly COVID-19 update. Liane, this past week proved to be pretty high in terms of positive case numbers. Here we are three weeks beyond Labor Day weekend, what are we attributing this pretty significant spike to.

Liane Jollon  00:25
So we are in fact seeing a very significant increase in cases here locally in southwest Colorado. And we’re seeing that, quite frankly, across the state of Colorado. Now, what I do want to level that with is that Colorado’s rates are much lower than many surrounding states and many other states across the country. So comparatively, Colorado is doing quite well. But unfortunately, this quite well is really a pretty high rate, the rates that we have locally, and the rates that we have in most counties in Colorado, are rates that we haven’t seen since last winter’s spike. So in fact, the rates that we have right now for seven days is a case rate that we have not seen here since January of 2021. What do you attribute that to? I think there’s a couple of things happening. You know, we knew that when kids went back to school, that people would start mixing in ways that we maybe hadn’t seen in quite some time. And in fact, the data bares that out. We recently saw the mobility data that is collected in Colorado, it’s collected from cell phones, and it’s aggregated de-identified data that simply shows how much time cell phones are out and about, not inside people’s homes. And what we’ve found from this aggregated de-identified cell phone data is that Coloradan’s trips outside the home right now in September of 2021, is the first time that we’ve returned to the amount of time we spend out of our homes since pre-pandemic. So this is it, this is the month that we really got our behaviors back to normal. And a lot of this is because kids are back in school, it gives families the opportunity to be back at work to be engaged in activities with their children, there’s just more pressures on people to do more things and act like the pandemic is fully behind us. And with so many of us vaccinated, there really was this hope that by now we would be in a really kind of new pre-pandemic phase. Unfortunately, though, there are also still so many of us who are not vaccinated, including kids who are under the age of 12. So if we’re going to have this much mixing, where we’re really out mixing like we were before March of 2020, and a significant number of us are unvaccinated. Here we are, we have some of the highest rates we’ve seen ever in this pandemic.

Sarah Flower  02:59
There have been a lot of questions across the nation about booster shots, eligibility, which brand name you got, and who can get it. I want to clear a lot of that up right here today, as far as you know.

Liane Jollon  03:13
Well, we’ll do the best we can. And we do have to agree with a lot of people that are saying this is confusing. You know, it’s absolutely confusing for people. So I’m going to start with where we were in August, and then where we landed in September, and then where we expect to go next. So in August, the federal government for the FDA and the CDC authorized third doses for individuals who had any kind of MRNA vaccine. So this would be Moderna, or Pfizer. And their immune system did not respond the way everybody else’s immune system responded. So this was two or 3% of the population that had very specific reasons for why their immune system would not respond, was authorized to get a third dose to bring their immune response up to where everybody else’s was. At the same time that that was happening, there were some studies underway across the country and in other countries about whether or not we were starting to see some waning immunity or some declining in immunity from other shots that were available in the U.S. So the first company that submitted its data to the FDA is the Pfizer shot. And that’s the only one that’s now studied and authorized to boost your immunity if you received Pfizer more than six months ago. So what happened is the FDA reviewed the data, reviewed the science, made a recommendation to the CDC and then the CDC incorporated that information and referred Americans back to the categories where people could boost their Pfizer shot. And this is folks who were over the age of 65. It’s people who are in high risk settings where they can be repeatedly exposed to a virus. And then the third category is people who are adults, who if they were to contract COVID, would be at a high risk for a severe infection. So those three categories, if there are more than six months out from a Pfizer shot, are now authorized to boost their Pfizer shot. And then the last piece of it is that we expect more information to come about whether or not this is offered to people with Johnson and Johnson, or Moderna in the near future.

Sarah Flower  05:48
Liane, the last thing I wanted to focus on today, as these boosters are coming out and available, it’s also a time when flu shots are available and recommended. What do we know about crossing the two, can we get them at the same time?

Liane Jollon  06:02
So starting with the preparations that went into the booster shots. So San Juan Basin Public Health has been working in the background, both with our providers and with vaccine providers across the counties that we serve, to ensure that boosters would be available if they became authorized. So right now, we do have clinics that have Pfizer available for boosters. There’s Johnson & Johnson available, that’s easy if you’re interested, the one and done shot, and we are highly recommending people that have no vaccine if you haven’t started, also to come in to these clinics. So for example, this past weekend, we had about 400, people already take advantage of coming in for a third shot in clinics that are offered by San Juan Basin Public Health through a partnership with CDPHE and Jogan Health. So what we are also preparing for is ways to make these clinics, flu shot clinics and COVID-19 clinics in the near future. So there is some work to be done on that front. As of right now, there are no recommendations against to doing both of those shots at the same time. So we’re hoping to work out the logistics and make both of those shots available, kind of in one stop shopping. We are working to try to have clinics that offer both at once. That really would be the best thing to do for the community this year. Because one of the concerns are if we have both COVID-19 moving around the community at a high rate of infection and have flu moving around at a high rate of infection, we can really run out of healthcare quickly in a community of this size.

Sarah Flower  07:49
Liane Jollon, Executive Director of San Juan Basin Public Health, anything else you want to throw in for us here today.

Liane Jollon  07:54
While we’re in this high rate of transmission, we still encourage masking off in public indoor spaces. There were new studies that were released this past weekend about how masks work and work well. And what they encourage in the most recent data is if you have access to a surgical mask and you work particularly at a high risk category, please use a surgical mask rather than a cloth mask while we’re in this high rate of transmission. We really have to get through this wave that we’re in right now so that we can evaluate, make sure that we’re able to keep schools open and kind of get ourselves back to this place where we have good control of the virus. And unfortunately, as you pointed out, three, four weeks past Labor Day, we’re having a hard time as a community. So mask up, surgical mask if you have one and let’s just work through this piece.

Sarah Flower  08:45
Liane Jollon thanks so much for joining us here on KSUT for our weekly COVID-19 update.