The hospitals are at full capacity. COVID-19 infections are at record highs. The test lines stretch for hours. Yet even as the omicron variant hits the state, only 38% of vaccinated Californians have received a booster.
As with the initial vaccinations, acceptance of the booster has varied across California: Far northern counties and rural areas continue to see lower numbers, with as few as 23% of those vaccinated receiving a booster in the provinces. Mariposa, Colusa and Merced counties, according to a CalMatters analysis of state data.
The Bay Area has the highest rate, at 55%, and only three counties have more than half of their populations vaccinated: San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo. In 19 counties in California, less than a third of eligible residents are boosted.
In Imperial County – the border community that dominated the state in vaccination rates last spring after being hit hard by the virus – only a quarter of eligible residents have received a booster. The health worker blames it for “pandemic fatigue”.
“I think there has been some fatigue after nearly two years of this pandemic, not just in Imperial County, but everywhere,” said health official Dr Stephen Munday. “People want to get back to normal life. They want to go to work, they want to take care of their families. It’s kind of like, well, my God, I have my two doses, why do I have to take another? “
It’s not just people in rural counties where a majority of people have so far refused to receive an additional injection: Los Angeles, Kern and Santa Barbara and 28 other counties have lower than average recall rates of 38% statewide. Large population centers such as San Diego, San Bernardino and Riverside are lagging behind.
State and federal government recommendations for booster injections have changed several times, making them difficult for the public to follow. Current guidelines advise a booster for all adults, while children as young as 12 years old can only receive one additional Pfizer injection. Immunocompromised children as young as 5 years old are also eligible for another dose of Pfizer.
Studies show that an extra dose can double the protection against infection and is very effective in preventing serious illness and hospitalizations, even against the omicron variant, said UC San Francisco epidemiologist George Rutherford.
“Run, don’t walk, to go get your reminders,” said Dr Rais Vohra, Fresno County health official.
Most seniors statewide listened to the advice: almost 64% got a boost. In Marin County, up to 80% of people 65 and over have been reinforced, and only four counties have reinforced less than half of their senior population.
But for young Californians, getting the extra dose is much less common. Only 47% of 50-64 year olds have been boosted. Forty-four counties have increased less than half of their population in this age group.
“The spikes in cases are largely due to the unvaccinated, who are between 25 and 45 years old,” Rutherford said. “This is where we see the majority of cases, and this is where the majority of unvaccinated or undervaccinated people are.”
Unlike at the start of the pandemic, when vaccines were limited, the slowness of the booster take has little to do with availability. “There is a very solid supply,” said Munday, Imperial County health official.
According to the state’s health department, the state’s stockpile currently has 5.6 million doses available, or a 39-day supply. MyTurn, the state’s immunization portal, recently added reminder appointments for children ages 12 to 15.
“Omicron is here. We cannot give up the tools that have made California one of the safest states throughout the pandemic. These are vaccines and boosters, ”Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said in an update on Wednesday.
Hospitalizations of all patients are approaching 51,000 people, a number just below the maximum capacity reached in last winter’s outbreak. About 8,000 of these patients are cases of COVID-19.
“To those who have not been vaccinated at all: get vaccinated as soon as possible. And those who have been vaccinated but not boosted, please consider boosting yourself, ”Ghaly said.
In Fresno, where COVID-19 has prompted the deployment of the National Guard, many health workers are unable to work due to exposure or infection to COVID-19, further straining their hospital system, officials said.
Only a third of eligible Fresno County residents are currently beefed up, according to state data.
“The strengthened vaccinated population repels omicron infections very quickly,” Vohra said. “For the unvaccinated, these are basically the super vulnerable and those are the ones that worry us because they are the ones who end up in hospitals and intensive care.”
North of Fresno, authorities in sparsely populated Mariposa County rely heavily on the state’s MyTurn portal to distribute booster shots. Less than a quarter of eligible residents received a boost.
County health official Dr Eric Sergienko said mass vaccination clinics had shrunk due to declining demand, dwindling resources and privacy concerns in their small community.
“Rather than doing clinics with hundreds, we have clinics through MyTurn that are booked with 30 to 100 people in our clinics scheduled on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” Sergienko said.
Cases and hospitalizations in Mariposa County tend to be younger, with the majority of cases occurring in those 20 to 40 years old and the majority of hospitalizations in unvaccinated people aged 40 to 55, the door said. word of the department, Lizz Darcy.
The statewide spike in infections and hospitalizations is expected to peak in the third week of January, experts say. Hospitalizations remain significantly lower than pre-vaccine levels.
Community organizations and health centers, which have been at the forefront of vaccine education and distribution, say interest in the booster has increased during this current wave.
“It appears our community is much more receptive to receiving the booster than it was originally to receiving the first dose,” said Bryant Macias, emergency relief supervisor at the United Farmworkers Foundation, who advocated for priority doses for farm workers and helped organize clinics.
“The main challenges we have identified are that people don’t know how long to wait before they get the booster, whether or not they can get a booster that’s different from their initial vaccine, and some people don’t want the booster that if it’s the same kind as their initial dose.
In agricultural counties, such as those in the Central Valley, workplace vaccination clinics played an important role in increasing access last spring. These events for boosters may not yet be as visible as it is the off season for many cultures. But they’re in the plans, said Irene de Barraicua, director of operations at Lideres Campesinas, a non-profit network of farm workers based at Oxnard.
“We have heard from counties and task forces that are enthusiastic about continuing these efforts,” she said.