Health department plans to offer third vaccine doses to certain individuals in coming weeks

Stanly County Health Department hopes to be able to offer third doses of the coronavirus vaccine to people with immunocompromised conditions within the next few weeks.

This news comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week recommended that certain immunocompromised people should get a third dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to further protect themselves from the virus.

The CDC recommends the additional COVID-19 shot be administered at least four weeks after a second dose.

The third dose, according to the CDC, is recommended for moderately to severely immunocompromised people. This includes people who have:

  • Been receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood;
  • Received an organ transplant and are taking medicine to suppress the immune system;
  • Received a stem cell transplant within the last two years or are taking medicine to suppress the immune system;
  • Moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (such as DiGeorge syndrome, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome);
  • Advanced or untreated HIV infection; and
  • Active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress your immune response.

People who are moderately to severely immunocompromised make up about 3 percent of the adult population, the CDC says, and are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 because they are more at risk of serious, prolonged illness.

“Right now what we’re doing is we’re getting our standing orders in place so we can provide the third doses,” said Stanly County Public Health Director David Jenkins.

The department is also working to acquire doses of the Moderna vaccine, which it has not administered to people since the beginning of the year. The plan is to provide people with the same brand of COVID-19 vaccine that they already received, Jenkins said. So if someone got two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, they should get a third dose of Pfizer.

Jenkins said the department has already heard from many people who have expressed interest in receiving a third dose.

There is a chance booster shots could be available to the public as early as sometime next week, Jenkins said, adding “It all depends on how quickly we can secure a vaccine.”

The U.S. government plans to make COVID-19 booster shots widely available starting Sept. 20. The third shot will be offered to fully vaccinated Americans who completed their initial two-shot inoculation at least eight months ago.

A third dose is encouraged as health officials have started to see waning immunity against infection from the delta variant.

“We are seeing some decline in antibodies over time in people who have received the vaccines,” said Dr. Lewis McCurdy, specialty director of infectious diseases with Atrium, during a call with reporters Thursday.

There is data, though, showing a “significant climb” in antibodies after people have taken the third shot, McCurdy noted.

Cases continues to rise

The availability of third shots come as cases continue to increase across Stanly due to the highly transmissible delta variant, which now accounts for roughly 99 percent of all U.S. cases.

There were about 37 daily cases reported last week, up from 18 daily cases reported the last week in July, according to data from the health department.

Since July 1, there have been 983 confirmed cases as of Thursday, of which 19 percent (186) have involved children 17 and younger. There have also been 85 breakthrough infections.

Twenty-two people are currently hospitalized, while the health department has reported an additional five deaths due to COVID-19 since the beginning of the month. All ten ICU beds at Atrium Health Stanly are currently occupied, according to Health and Human Services data. Only about 28 percent of the hospital’s total inpatient beds are available.

While he wouldn’t give specifics, Jenkins said there have been children from Stanly who have recently been hospitalized as a result of the virus.

There have also been two confirmed outbreaks within the county. Two cases among staff have been reported at Stanly Manor and Trinity Place. No residents have tested positive.

Though they can’t divulge specifics, the health department has received reports of potential small COVID clusters throughout the community.

The Stanly County Board of Elections, which shut down this week due to a Covid exposure, will remain closed to the public through Friday.

Stanly’s percent positive rate is at 16.4 percent, the second highest rate during the pandemic. The only time it was higher occurred during the last week of December, when it was 16.8 percent.

Only 34 percent of residents are fully vaccinated, according to state data, one of the lowest rates in the state, though the percentage of people that are partially vaccinated did slightly increase this week from 36 to 37 percent.

The percentage of children 12 to 17 fully vaccinated is also lagging. Only 12 percent of the population is vaccinated, well below the overall state’s rate of 30 percent.

The health department has seen a “consistent” number of people wanting to get vaccinated recently, but “it’s nowhere near where we need to be,” Jenkins said.

“I still want to encourage people to get it (the vaccine) but they also need to utilize the other low intervention methods such as masking and social distancing,” he added.

While getting vaccinated will not fully prevent people from contracting COVID-19, it’s good at preventing severe sickness, hospitalization and death, Jenkins said.

Importance of masks

With public school opening days away, Stanly County Schools, like most other local districts, will enter the new school year with students and staff required to wear masks.

Masks will be required until the county’s percent positive rate decreases to 7.9 percent or below.

Requiring masks will allow students to stay in school and not miss out on in-person learning due to quarantines, something that was familiar for students and staff last school year, officials said.

According to the Strong School NC Public Health Tool Kit, even if there is a positive case, as long as the person with COVID-19 and the potentially exposed are wearing masks, then those potentially exposed do not need to quarantine, regardless of vaccination status. This exception, though, does not apply to teachers, staff or other adults in the classroom setting.

“We’re fortunate that our schools are currently wearing masks because you’ve seen a lot of other states where they’ve had to reverse their decisions for making it optional because of outbreaks they’re seeing,” Jenkins said. “You’ve got to have some intervention in place if you’re going to have in-person school.”

While SCS made the initial decision to require masks, several other districts, including Gaston, Kannapolis and Cabarrus, recently reversed course and switched to making masks a requirement after previously making them optional.