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Health Officials Expect More Demand for COVID-19 Vaccine Boosters

Howard Gamble

WHEELING — Pfizer COVID-19 booster shots for children ages 5 to 11 are on the way. It’s also anticipated that the vaccine soon will be available for children under 5. Both of those developments likely will cause demand for vaccine to increase.

Ohio County Health Administrator Howard Gamble expects the health department will see increased demand for booster shots in the coming weeks. The FDA announcement approving the booster came last week, while the Centers for Disease Control signed off on the same parameter Thursday.

Gamble said the health department is already stocking vaccine to meet the demand, once the approval is complete, and information such as dosage is announced.

“What we’re all waiting for, clinics and health departments across the country, are the specifics,” Gamble said. “What is the dose, what is the scheduling. We pre-ordered some adolescent vaccine, which is a little different, so we have that in. We just received it. We need those specifics before we start.”

Gamble said that holding off on adolescent boosters was fine, as the health department was currently seeing a heavier influx of people getting their first or second boosters.

“We anticipate a little bit of an uptick with the booster for 5-to-11-year-olds, and this is an ideal time,” he said. “This is a booster as we go into the summer months, kids are going to be a little freer – (their parents) will be able to drive down to the clinic, or to Wheeling Health Right, county health department or the pharmacies to get it.”

Gamble said they will likely be able to meet the demand for boosters at the health department building. In previous times of higher demand, the health department held daily clinics at The Highlands in a building that had been sitting empty.

However, the building that had previously been used is now under contract to another entity.

“That’s not an option right now,” he said. “… We can handle the volume here. We did it at the beginning of the pandemic with quite a lot of folks.”

Looking ahead, though, Gamble was somewhat concerned with the volume of patients getting vaccines for their younger children, younger than age 5.

“What we’ll have more of a challenge with is when they announce lower-aged vaccines,” Gamble continued. “During the meeting (Thursday) with the CDC and (the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices), they announced that they received data to review doing vaccines for children under the age of 5. … It may take a while; our focus will be on first booster, second booster, and now first booster for kids 5-11.

“We’ll wait for that decision; volume-wise, we’re in a good place. The volunteers are still working with us. We have enough vaccine and supplies. We’re doing okay.”

In a broader look at COVID, dozens of COVID cases continue to be reported daily in Ohio County, ranging from between 50 and 80 active cases during the last week. Gamble said, as before, the true number of cases in the county is likely significantly higher than is reported due to a preponderance of home tests, which are not included in official figures.

“What’s being reported is great, and they’re able to see we’re trending up. It’s in little waves, locally, while nationally it’s in larger waves, with an increase of subvariants of omicron” he said. “What we can track on the website are numbers from clinics and laboratories. … What we’re not seeing are the home test kits, or the individual who assumes, correctly, ‘I have the symptoms, I’ll stay home and be back after five or 10 days when I’m done with self-isolation.’

“We’re not seeing that, so whatever number’s showing up at the DHHR, you have to double or even triple that, to see what’s in the community. We just don’t know,” he added. “The test kits are out there, through the federal government, are out there, the test kits from CVS and Walgreens are available. We don’t track those, and they’re not reportable to the county. We don’t know what the actual volume of positives are, as we did this time last year.”

Gamble explained that the inability to report COVID cases from home test kits has long been a sticking point in the health community, but due to the variety of test kits available and a push to make the tests more user-friendly and uncomplicated, early efforts to report COVID positives from home kits had been abandoned.

Other diseases, such as the flu, are also able to be tested at home without reporting to the county, he added.

“It’d be nice to know that, but it’s just how we’re dealing with the pandemic,” Gamble said. “Testing needs to become simple, more convenient, and as long as individuals who are positive are taking appropriate steps, that’s the key. What we don’t want to have is someone test positive, say ‘I feel fine, I’m going to go ahead and do my activities.’ That’s what leads to spreads within businesses, care centers, or schools.”

The Ohio County Health Department offers COVID testing Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and daily vaccinations are available to walk-ins.

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