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Kern Public Health recommends booster shots to avoid COVID-19 winter surge

Kern Public Health Services recommends that all eligible residents get a booster shot to avoid another COVID-19 surge that could surpass the most recent peak that strained local hospitals.

Recent modeling by the state's California COVID-19 Assessment Tool (CalCAT) indicates a winter surge is a real possibility, and that waning immunity to COVID-19 is a primary factor, according to a news release on Wednesday from Kern Public Health.

Certain populations are seeing a slight decrease in the vaccine’s effectiveness against infection. These populations need a booster, according to County Public Health spokeswoman Michelle Corson.

The worst-case scenario in Kern County shows a surge beginning in early December and peaking Jan. 14 with an average of 748 new cases per day. This same model shows that hospitalizations would peak at 559 on Jan. 20. It also shows deaths from COVID-19 climbing to 2,297 by March 1. As of Wednesday, Kern County had tallied 1,694 deaths due to COVID-19.

By comparison, during this most recent surge, Kern peaked at an average of 411 cases per day with 336 hospitalizations. Corson noted that the county has tended to follow pessimistic modeling put out by the state.

The county’s fate is not set. The state's modeling shows that boosters can make a difference in flattening the curve.

The most optimistic model shows Kern County heading off a surge altogether, allowing daily case rates to gradually drop. A strong booster response would allow case rates to drop to 25 per day mid-January. The number of deaths by March are predicted to be 407 fewer than the worst-case scenario.

A model in the middle where boosters balance out waning immunity demonstrates a scenario where there is a much smaller surge than the worst-case scenario, peaking at 88 new cases per day. It would have 74 fewer deaths by March.

Modeling has been a valuable tool that helps shore up local resources for public health, emergency medical response and hospital systems during surges, Corson said.

"It’s not to scare us but to make us aware," said Jay Tamsi, co-founder of the Kern County Latino COVID-19 Task Force.

The Task Force has been working on educating the community about the importance of booster shots, while also delivering first and second doses at its vaccine clinics. Tamsi said that a booster is particularly important for those who want to stay safe during the upcoming holidays.

"It's that much more important to get one so you can be around your parents, grandparents," Tamsi said.

In a statement, Corson said: "The determining factor in how Kern will trend in the modeling is the actions our community takes to ensure optimal immunity from this disease, which includes getting vaccinated and subsequently getting your booster dose when you are eligible."

All COVID-19 vaccines — even without a booster — continue to provide significant protection against severe illness, hospitalization and death. In Kern County, 96.15 percent of those hospitalized for COVID-19 were unvaccinated.

However, the CDC recommends certain populations obtain a booster shot to ensure optimal immunity. This is not uncommon for vaccines, Corson noted. They are a part of most childhood and adult vaccine series that ensure a person maintains immunity against infection.

A booster dose of the Pfizer of Moderna vaccine is recommended six months after the second dose for those who are 65 or older.

It is also recommended for adults who are working or living in high-risk settings, such as skilled nursing residents, health care staff, first-responders, grocery staff, manufacturing workers, corrections, school staff and agriculture workers.

It also recommends boosters for adults who are at increased risk due to social inequity or who have underlying medical conditions, which include pregnancy, diabetes, heart conditions, obesity, mental health, smoking and substance use disorders.

A booster dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is recommended two months after the initial dose for those 18 or older.

Daniel Wolcott, president of Adventist Health Kern County, noted that its local hospitals are seeing a decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases, but he encouraged continued vigilance.

"We want people to get vaccinated if they are able to do so," Wolcott said in a statement. "With the holidays just around the corner, we want to make sure everyone stays safe, so we can avoid impacting our hospitals again."

Corson also recommends those who are not vaccinated wear a mask. She said handwashing, staying home when sick and maintaining a healthy diet remain critical in the ongoing fight against COVID-19.

To find a vaccination site near you or to make an appointment at vaccination sites, visit www.kernpublichealth.com or www.MyTurn.ca.gov. Kern County Public Health is operating a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Kern County Fairgrounds, Tuesday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

California COVID-19 Assessment Tool can be viewed at https://calcat.covid19.ca.gov/cacovidmodels/

You can reach Emma Gallegos at 661-395-7394.