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Doctors encouraging booster shots before holidays and potential winter COVID surge

Low booster shot numbers
Published: Dec. 12, 2021 at 10:24 PM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Boosters are now approved for 16 and 17-year-olds and it is coming as health officials warn of a potential winter surge from the new Omicron variant.

The Omicron variant has not been found in Alabama yet, but doctors said it is only a matter of time. They said it’s good booster shots are being expanded to more age groups, but only if people actually roll up their sleeves and get the shot.

“The fact that they are approved is nice, but a vaccine in a bottle doesn’t protect anyone,” Dr. Don Williamson with the Alabama Hospital Association said.

Only about 22% of people across the state have gotten a booster dose, and only about 47% of the state is fully vaccinated. Williamson said these low numbers are concerning as COVID hospitalizations rise.

“In June, we got down to 160 people in hospital,” he said. “Now, for about one month, we have been averaging right around 300 people with COVID in hospital and still over 100 in our ICU’s.”

Williamson said he is worried this coming January could look similar to last year, where hospitals were full with COVID patients.

“We aren’t there yet,” he said. “But, certainly there are some warning flags on the horizon that we would do well to pay attention too.”

Warning signs like low booster shot numbers. Williamson said the third dose is game changer with a new variant on the horizon.

“It drives your risk down substantially more, because you get this massive boost of what are called neutralizing antibodies,” Williamson said. “They are the antibodies that find the virus before it can infect the cells in your upper airway, so that keeps you from getting infected.”

Williamson said the data for the first two shots is strong, but booster data is even better.

“There is some evidence in people who have been boosted with three shots, they didn’t see spread,” Williamson said about boosters protection against the Omicron variant.

Williamson said the third shot is critical to safe holiday celebrations and preventing another winter surge

“If we want to avoid January this year looking like last winter,” He said. “Then, it is a combination of getting your flu shot, wearing a mask, and getting your booster.”

FDA officials are recommending a Covid-19 treatment pill that helps prevent severe illness. Williamson said it is similar to Tamiflu. He said if it is fully approved, this pill could make the virus more manageable and prevent hospitalizations.

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