The federal government has now recommended booster shots after six months for high-risk groups that got the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago.
The federal Food and Drug Administration is also expected to recommend booster shots for people who got the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines in the coming weeks or days.
The news comes as Gila County is seeing a leveling off in the surge in new infections and deaths in the past two weeks.
The virus continues to move through the community and into schools, with most of the new cases and almost all the new deaths among the unvaccinated.
Gila County has so far reported 260 deaths — including one on Tuesday. County residents have reported nearly 9,000 infections — a fatality rate since the start of the pandemic of 471 per 100,000.
However, only 44% of the population has gotten at least one shot, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services website — with only about 16 new shots administered per day. The state website says vaccination rates in Gila County range from 10% for those younger than 20 to 72% of those older than 65.
Nationally, 64% have gotten at least one dose, including 94% of those older than 65. Statewide in Arizona, 57 have gotten at least one shot including 91% of those older than 65.
However, the state has reported a big jump in vaccination coverage in Gila County in the past few weeks.
The county health department recommends that people older than 65 who had their last shot of the Pfizer vaccine six months ago should get a booster. That includes all residents of long-term care homes, which have been experiencing a fresh surge and remain most at risk for death. People with underlying medical conditions of any age can also get a booster. People in high-risk settings, like health care, jails, teachers and other places where lots of people mix can also get boosters.
The official recommendation suggests people don’t mix vaccines. However, some studies have shown that boosters that mix different vaccines — including the Pfizer — may get even stronger protection.
Studies have shown that a booster shot creates a fresh surge in protective antibodies and may provide stronger protection against the Delta variant than the original vaccine. However, studies have not proven conclusively that the booster shots are necessary for most low-risk, vaccinated people. Doctors do agree that the top priority remains convincing the vaccine reluctant to get their first round of shots — since they account for almost all of the people who end up in the hospital and dying in the latest surge.
Figures compiled by the Centers for Disease Control show new cases in Arizona have declined 3% as a daily average in the past two weeks to an infection rate of 34 per 100,000. Cases in Gila County have dropped 26% to 34 per 100,000. Hospitalizations in the county for COVID have dropped 11%. The county’s still averaging about one death per day.
Arizona continues to report an average of 43 deaths per day, with Navajo and Apache counties each reporting roughly one death a day.
Nationally, doctors report 118,000 new cases daily and 2,000 deaths.
Disease experts say the pandemic has now killed 1 in 500 Americans, with essentially uncontrolled spread continuing. The latest surge in new cases and deaths remains a pandemic of the unvaccinated — especially when it comes to hospitalizations and deaths. Only about half of the population nationally has been fully vaccinated.
Some 700,000 Americans have died from COVID since the start of the pandemic, with 43 million infections reported. The pandemic has lowered the U.S. life expectancy by about 16%, knocking nearly two years off the average lifespan. The pandemic now ranks as the third leading cause of death in the country — behind heart disease and cancer. COVID kills more people annually than the combined toll of accidents, diabetes, the flu, pneumonia and suicide.
The pandemic has killed 1 in 35 people older than 85 and one in 780 of those between the ages of 40 and 64.
Native Americans, blacks and Hispanics have suffered an even higher toll, mostly because of pre-existing conditions, less access to health care and lower vaccination rates. That has changed among Native Americans in Arizona, with reservation communities rallying around the battle cry of “protect your elders.”
The pandemic now reflects vaccination rates nationwide. Early in the pandemic, big cities had far higher infection rates than rural areas with crowded conditions, large minority populations and other factors leading to faster spread of the virus. As a result, Democratic-run areas suffered the most in the early stages of the pandemic. But most of those areas now have high vaccination rates and much lower infection rates. The pandemic has increasingly shifted to many rural states with Republican control. The degeneration of the vaccination campaign into a partisan issue has left Republicans far less likely to get the shot than Democrats. A Pew Research poll recently found 60% of Republicans have gotten at least one shot compared to 86% of Democrats.
Arizona’s 48th nationally when it comes to vaccination rates, according to a recent summary of national data published on the Wallet Hub website. Only Texas, Georgia and Mississippi are doing worse.