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St. Louis-area health providers to roll out COVID-19 vaccine boosters for all adults

St. Louis-area health providers to roll out COVID-19 vaccine boosters for all adults

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Area nurses too closer to breaking point than ever before

Lisa Thompson, a registered nurse in SSM Health St. Mary's intensive care unit, take a break between patients on Monday, Sep. 27, 2021, with Nellie, the hospital's chief snuggle officer, (official title) who visits various units to offer comfort to staff. Area nurses now face their greatest tests because of the never-ending pandemic, long hours, being short-staffed, low vaccination rates, and so many Covid-19 deaths. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS — Hospitals, pharmacies, clinics and health departments across the region are well positioned now to administer COVID-19 vaccine booster doses to all adults, health officials said Friday after federal agencies expanded booster eligibility.

Dr. Hilary Babcock, a Washington University infectious disease specialist at BJC HealthCare, said that given the increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases in the community, boosters may be arriving at the right time. And, unlike last winter, the region is far better prepared to give out doses, with vaccination clinics now in hospitals, health departments and retail pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens.

“The St. Louis region has done, overall, a good job of blunting the curve when we see these surges starting to happen,” Babcock said. “I am hopeful that people will see that information and continue to wear masks in public and in crowded indoor spaces, that people will continue to encourage others to get vaccinated, get vaccinated themselves, and seek out boosters, to keep us protected a little better.”

On Friday morning, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration updated rules to allow for booster doses for all adults. Later in the day, an advisory panel for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unanimously agreed. Friday evening, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky endorsed the panel’s recommendation, finalizing the move.

The update recommends the booster for Americans over 49, and allows it for all adults.

The COVID-19 vaccines are free of charge and already available across the region:

• CVS and Walgreens encourage people to make appointments ahead of time, but also accept walk-ins.

• The St. Louis County health department had four vaccine events scheduled for Saturday, including one at the St. Louis County Library Rock Road Branch, and another at the John C. Murphy Health Center in Berkeley. Health department spokesman Christopher Ave said that the Saturday clinics would offer the booster shots to the newly eligible adults.

• More information about vaccine events in St. Louis County is available at Revivestl.com. The St. Louis Regional Health Commission has a list of events at VaccinateSTL.org. The state health department has events listed on its vaccine website, and the federal government also has a vaccine search tool at Vaccines.gov.

Health officials urged area residents to get a booster.

“While we need more people who are completely unvaccinated to get their first doses, we cannot risk losing some of the protection the vaccines have already provided due to waning immunity,” said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, health director for Illinois, which recommended on Friday that all residents 18 and older get a booster.

People who received the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines can get a booster six months after their second dose. The CDC already has recommended that everyone who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine get a booster two months after.

The CDC has authorized mixing and matching of vaccines, so, for example, those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can elect to get the Moderna vaccine as their booster.

It’s not clear if people will need periodic booster shots in the future, such as with the annual flu shot, Babcock said.

“If you think about the tetanus shot, for example, you need a tetanus shot booster every 10 years. You need a flu shot every year. You get a Hepatitis B vaccine, and you’re protected for life,” she said. “So it’s very hard to predict exactly how this is going to work.”

The upcoming holiday season will also mean more gatherings, and because of the colder weather, they likely will move indoors, where viruses can spread more easily.

“The boosters can really help to interrupt those transmission opportunities,” Babcock said.

Missouri reported 1,716 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. The state seven-day average was elevated because of a massive data update by the state health department on Thursday, but Friday’s daily case total was still high compared to previous days, according to a Post-Dispatch analysis. The state on Friday also reported 18 more deaths because of the virus.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force reported a total of 269 confirmed virus patients across area BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health and St. Luke’s Hospital facilities — up from 223 on Nov. 7. Task force data lags two days.

Babcock also encouraged residents to get flu shots, which can be administered at the same time as COVID boosters.

The region has begun to log small upticks in flu cases, she said, and if rates are high this year, it will increase the burden for the health systems.

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