Georgia public health officials roll out COVID boosters, warn of virus resurgence

Georgia Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey, front, joined Gov. Brian Kemp Thursday to announce how the state is handling the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine booster shots and monoclonal antibody treatments. (Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder)

ATLANTA (GA Recorder) — The governor and the state’s top public health official Thursday warned Georgians not to become complacent after a couple of weeks of declining COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, as another surge may be on the way.

Infection rates are on the decline in Georgia after numbers surged with the delta variant. And the fight to limit the spread of the coronavirus is opening on a new front with new availability of booster shots and monoclonal antibody treatment, which remains available to people at high risk for severe illness.

Georgia’s hospitals are under less pressure than in recent weeks because fewer patients arriving with serious cases of COVID-19 have freed up critical care beds that were in short supply after the health care system was overwhelmed this month.

In the past seven days, hospitals in Georgia treated roughly one-third fewer COVID-19 patients while overall cases have dropped by 32% in the last 14 days, Gov. Brian Kemp said at a Capitol press conference, citing state public health data.

Georgia’s rate of 53% over the age of 12 being fully vaccinated and 64% having received at least one dose still lags behind the national average of 65 percent of people over the age of 12 fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than 80,000 people have been admitted to a hospital in Georgia with serious COVID-19 complications since the outbreak began in March 2020, including nearly 12,900 patients who required treatment in an intensive care unit.

“Given that our increase in cases and hospitalizations in 2021 is similar in timing to the surge in 2020, we can only assume that a winter increase is possible,” Kemp said. “I’m encouraging those who are unvaccinated to talk to their doctor or trusted medical professional about getting vaccinated for whatever may come our way later this year or in early 2022.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is now determining how much monoclonal antibodies treatment is available based on how many positive cases and hospitalizations are reported in each state. This formula results in a relatively small allotment for Georgia.

However, the state is not close to running out of the treatment, said Georgia Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey. The monoclonal treatment is most effective when given right away after someone who has not been vaccinated becomes infected with the virus.

Georgians should not rely on a chance at monoclonal treatment as a reason to skip getting vaccinated, though, Kemp said.

“Monoclonal antibody treatments are secondary to getting vaccinated,” Kemp said. “In fact, COVID vaccines remain the best tools to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent hospitalizations.”

For people who already have been fully vaccinated, the state’s public health department follows the CDC recommendations for booster shots.

At present, booster shots are available to people who received the Pfizer vaccine and are over 65 or live in long-term care facilities, along with younger adults with underlying medical conditions or jobs that put them at higher risk of contracting the disease. The CDC anticipates expanding booster availability with federal clearance in a few weeks, Toomey said.

“Right now, the booster is available just for people who’ve received Pfizer,” she said. “I know that’s really a concern of people who’ve received (Johnson & Johnson) or Moderna.”

“The definition of fully vaccinated remains two doses,” Toomey added.

The booster doses are also available in Georgia to people with health complications such as obesity, heart disease, severe asthma, and other chronic conditions. First responders, teachers, cafeteria workers, and many other professions considered at high-risk for infection are also eligible for the third shot, Toomey said.

The CDC is also recommending pregnant women receive a booster shot, Toomey said.

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