Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – The robust spread of an ultra-contagious coronavirus variant continues to sicken, hospitalize and kill people, prompting dozens of the region’s physicians to plead for vaccination.
At the start of a week that would see confirmation of 462 Humboldt County COVID-19 cases, 25 new COVID-19 hospitalizations among a wide range of age groups and three more deaths, the Humboldt-Del Norte County Medical Society released an extraordinary appeal to the public.
“We are your physicians. You have honored us by entrusting your lives to us, as well as the lives of your loved ones,” the physician group’s August 16 letter begins.
“Please get vaccinated,” it continues. “We ask this from the bottom of our hearts.”
Describing themselves as “the people with whom you have worked, played, laughed, and cried,” the doctors declare that “we are tired of the suffering, pain and death that can be avoided by getting vaccinated.”
The letter ends with a plea: “You’ve trusted us with every other aspect of your health. Please trust us with this … get vaccinated.”
Another moving part is about to be added to the vaccination drive – booster doses.
The day after the doctors’ letter was released, the county relayed the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advice that third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines should be taken by those who are “moderately or severely immunocompromised.”
The county’s statement adds that “the CDC may recommend boosters more broadly as early as mid-September” and “nursing home residents, health care workers and emergency workers would be the first to receive boosters, followed by adults age 65 and older and then the general population.”
By the next day, the CDC’s recommendation was expanded and a county press release explained that “while vaccines continue to protect against severe disease, hospitalization and death, health officials are seeing some evidence of waning protection against infection in association with the highly contagious Delta variant.”
Pending authorizations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the CDC, booster doses of the mRNA vaccines will be available to those who’ve been fully vaccinated for eight months.
Those vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are also expected to need booster doses but that’s in the process of being confirmed.
Vaccines are described as the best way to slow the surge, even more so when combined with communal masking.
On Aug. 20, the county announced that since a masking order went into effect 13 days prior, “Case rates dropped sharply among the 51.7 percent of the county population that is fully vaccinated.”
The county also reported that case rates among unvaccinated residents “remain critically high at nearly four times the rate of the fully vaccinated population.”
The Delta surge coincides with the start of the school year and the welfare of schoolchildren was a main theme of an August 18 forum hosted by Senator Mike McGuire.
Children younger than 12 years old are not yet eligible for vaccination but Dr. Jose Morales, a Kaiser Permanente pediatrician and clinical professor at UCSF, said children are suffering from home isolation and need to return to school.
“This past year, I have seen so many children with depression and anxiety, feeling lost because of the lack of structure in their life,” he continued.
Morales said the surge “is not something that’s going be made worse by kids going back to school” but rather the result of the mid-June lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and lack of masking and other precautions.
But in schools, “We are going to have structure within the school system that’s going to keep our kids safe,” said Morales.
He said that although he’s seeing younger people in hospital care – with one of his hospitalized patients being only 15 years old – infected children mostly have mild symptoms.
“Our children that are school-aged are not at increased risk,” he continued.
But as with every other aspect of the pandemic so far, there’s contradictory messaging on that.
In an Aug. 15 interview, the director of the National Institutes of Health said that “kids are very seriously at risk” due to the Delta variant’s uncanny infectiousness.
In other parts of the world, Delta is also starting to erode vaccine protection against severe disease.
“Our international colleagues are several weeks ahead of us both in terms of Delta and also vaccine, and they’re starting to see evidence of worsening of severe disease in those who are having breakthrough cases,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky in an Aug. 20 interview.
As of the end of last week, the county’s to-date total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases was 6,427. The hospitalization total was 304 and the death total was 61.