Pfizer booster available now, COVID vaccine for kids coming

Meanwhile, COVID-19 surge is stretching staff and space for other emergencies

Sanford Health nurse gives vaccine in teenage girl's arm against Sanford Health logo backdrop.

The “pandemic of the unvaccinated” continues.

Compared to mid-August, we have effectively doubled the number of COVID-19 patients in Sanford Health hospitals, and the large majority of those in the hospital are unvaccinated, said Sanford Health Chief Physician Jeremy Cauwels, M.D.

He joined Sanford Health News for a Facebook Live Q&A Sept. 22.

Watch: Facebook Live Q&A, Sept. 22, 2021

“We’re watching those numbers to make sure that our front-line health care workers and those we depend on every day don’t get burned out and have the tools and the resources they need,” Dr. Cauwels said.

Supporting health care workers

From Aug. 24 to Sept. 24, the total number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized and in intensive care units nearly doubled, and the number of patients on ventilators tripled.

The week-to-week numbers may not seem high, but they only add to the higher volume of non-COVID-19 patients.

“We’re already taking care of strokes. We’re already taking care of heart attacks. We’re already trying to do the surgeries that people need,” Dr. Cauwels said. “Unfortunately, there are so many people in the hospital right now that these extra 145 people, these extra 40 people on a ventilator are enough to make it difficult for our staff to have all of the tools and people they need to take care of an additional one-to-10 more.”

And so this really is the point where we need everybody to do their part, he said, to make sure they don’t become one of those folks in the hospital.

Thankfully, there’s a vaccine for that. Dr. Cauwels said it’s the most effective way the general public can avoid hospitalization.

More: Sanford Health offers COVID and flu vaccinations 

“All of (our health care workers) continue to band together to do the good work every day. But let’s be honest — they’re tired and want to see COVID go away,” Dr. Cauwels added. “In order to go and make it go away, the best opportunity we have is to vaccinate those who haven’t seen the virus before to protect them from ending up in the hospital.”

Who gets a vaccine booster?

The Food and Drug Administration has looked at and recommended an additional dose for those who are at higher risk for complicated coronavirus infections.

“They’re saying if you’re unable to have a normal immune response to your first two doses of Pfizer or Moderna, or the single dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you may need an extra dose to make sure your body is revved up enough to fight the infection off if exposed to it,” Dr. Cauwels said.

Those with a normal immune system won’t need a booster at this time, he said, because their bodies are able to fight off an infection if they’ve been primed to do so.

“The first two doses of the vaccine have done a very good job of letting our body know that this could be coming at some point, so it can be ready to fight it off.”

If you have high-risk family members, reach out to your provider for help accessing that additional dose.

In late September, the FDA authorized an additional dose of Pfizer COVID-19 booster shots and Sanford Health will be offering them beginning Sept. 28.

“Sanford Health will be offering Pfizer COVID-19 booster shots for people over 65, those with underlying health conditions and people with jobs that put them at higher risk,” Dr. Cauwels said in a statement Sept. 27.

Schedule your shot via My Sanford Chart or by calling your primary care provider. For immediate questions, call (877) 701-0779.

COVID-19 vaccine for ages 5-11

Pfizer announced the vaccine is safe for kids 5-11, prompting a “robust” immune response, according to its study.

“This is what we expected,” Dr. Cauwels said. “This is probably one of the largest vaccine studies that’s ever been done in children.”

Early data looked to not only ensure a strong immune response but determine it is safe and effective at preventing kids from getting sick or spreading the disease more aggressively to friends or family.

This process doesn’t happen overnight.

“The steps after we get the early data are very important,” Dr. Cauwels said. “Now, it has to go through the vaccine scientists who ask, ‘Is this the best, safest way to move forward in this age group to prevent them from getting illness or prevent them from getting hospitalization?'”

Meetings with the FDA and infectious disease experts will take place for several more weeks, or months, before this drug is approved for use widely in that age group, he said.

“This is the hope we had … that we would bring together a vaccine that is safe for our oldest and our youngest to help prevent this disease from spreading and causing serious illness and long-term effects, which are as prevalent in kids as they are in adults.”

Information in this story was accurate when it was posted. As the COVID-19 pandemic changes, scientific understanding and guidelines may have changed since the original publication date.

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Posted In Children's, Coronavirus, Expert Q&A, Immunizations, Senior Services

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