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Warnings of a Covid Uptick

Thu, 09/21/2023 - 10:34
New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul
Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

Gov. Kathy Hochul urged New Yorkers last week to get the new Covid vaccine when it is available, and this week the latest vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, tailored to target the dominant Covid-19 variant, are being delivered to pharmacies and physicians’ offices.

The federal Food and Drug Administration approved the new vaccine last week, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone 6 months and older receive it. Most health insurance plans will cover the cost, and those without insurance will have access free of charge through community health centers, local, tribal, or territorial health departments, and pharmacies participating in the federal Department of Health and Human Services’ Bridge Access Program, according to the governor.

In her Sept. 13 remarks, the governor acknowledged that “We are in a very, very different place” from earlier waves of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths from the coronavirus, which has killed more than 1.1 million Americans since early 2020. Statewide, the seven-day average of cases per 100,000 residents numbers almost 15, she said. But that number “pales in comparison to the end of 2021 when we hit 300 cases per 100,000. The second half of 2022, with the virus we thought was under control, we were at about 50 per 100,000.”

Nonetheless, “the numbers are starting to creep up” and have been since mid-July, she said, which is “what we have come to expect every fall.” Long Island and New York City have infection rates above the statewide average, she said.

The governor’s message came against the backdrop of a public weary not just of masking and social distancing but of getting vaccinated. Fewer than one-quarter of Americans received last year’s Covid bivalent booster, and fewer than half of those over 65, the demographic most at risk of severe illness or death from Covid-19 infection, received it.

The bivalent booster targeted two variants of the virus. The new vaccine is monovalent, meaning it is designed to protect against one variant, known as XBB.1.5.

“It’s important to have a new, updated vaccine which includes the sequence from the current circulating strains, so the vaccine you get will be effective against those,” said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

While there has been an uptick in infections and hospitalizations, there has not been a consequent rise in deaths from Covid-19, Dr. Nachman said, and she believes this is because “we have tools to treat this and we know what we’re doing.”

Still, “there is cause for alarm,” she said. “I believe there has been so much discussion about ‘it’s just another virus,’ and ‘you had Covid in the past,’ prior infection, like previous vaccine doses, bestowing limited protection against the virus.” This belief, she said, “minimizes that for certain populations this can still be a lethal virus and cause hospitalizations. That population is getting the message ‘don’t worry,’ when we think they should be concerned about their health.”

The vaccines’ peak efficacy lasts around three months, Dr. Nachman said. “We assume, like last year, that we will have a ‘tridemic’ “ of Covid, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, “in November, December, January. We want them to have peak response when they need it most.”

She also advised that people seeking Paxlovid, an antiviral therapy used to treat Covid infection that is available at pharmacies, call the pharmacy before going to ascertain that it is in stock, in order to protect others.

“You don’t want to stand around unless you know it has the medication,” she said. “But if you do go, please think about wearing a mask. If you have a newborn at home, if you are caring for an elderly parent or grandparent, you don’t want to bring it home to them.” She asked that people be accepting of those wearing a mask and “recognize that they are doing it for a good reason.”

On Tuesday, the CVS website was accepting appointments to receive the vaccine at its Manorville location on Saturday, and at both East Hampton locations starting on Friday, Sept. 29. All of these locations are offering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The Walgreens website was also accepting appointments for either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, at its Mattituck location tomorrow and Monday, and at its Bridgehampton Commons location starting on Tuesday.

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