COVID-19 booster shots could be coming soon for general population

A bottle of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is prepped for a staff member at Alaska Regional Hospital.
A bottle of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is prepped for a staff member at Alaska Regional Hospital.
Published: Aug. 30, 2021 at 8:55 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine could soon be an option for the general public, a welcome sign for hospitals currently struggling to keep up with full beds and higher rates of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Health care providers have been busy lately at the Alaska Native Medical Center as COVID-19 cases continue to climb across the state. According to ANMC Administrator Dr. Bob Onders, 95% of COVID-19 patients at the facility are unvaccinated.

It’s a scenario that’s similar to what’s being seen across the country, but this time, Onders says it’s worse than last fall’s surge.

“The delta variant seems to be having more severe symptoms with those that end up in the hospital or in the ICU, so the level of care needed to care for these individual patients is much higher,” Onders said.

He said the patient population has also shifted, and that they’re seeing younger patients getting sicker. Although most vaccinated people don’t end up in the hospital due to COVID-19, there have been a number of breakthrough cases in vaccinated individuals in Alaska, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

“What we’ve seen in other countries and across the world is that like other respiratory vaccinations, the immunity may wane over time — and so we’re seeing that same pattern with the COVID vaccination,” Onders said.

Anchorage resident Shelley Cooper recently had a breakthrough COVID-19 case. She says her symptoms were mild, but says she can only imagine how much worse it could’ve been if she hadn’t been fully vaccinated.

“I think that all of us, vaccinated or not, still need to follow the absolute best protocols possible not selfishly, just for ourselves,” Cooper said.

As the upward trend of breakthrough cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations among the unvaccinated continues, federal health officials have announced that the U.S. plans to start offering COVID-19 booster shots to all Americans beginning the third week of September, assuming the FDA and the CDC sign off by that point. That means for those who received either the Moderna or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines would need to get a third shot eight months after receiving their second dose to achieve maximum protection against the virus.

Currently, a third dose is only approved for those with compromised immune systems. Onders said being vaccinated against COVID-19 is critically important to not only stay protected against the virus, but also to not overcrowd hospitals, which has a negative impact on everyone.

“I think in Alaska, we’re in a very unique position that if we can get that immunization rate really high, we can be a really safe place where the hospitals can operate under normal conditions or closer to normal conditions,” Onders said.

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