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Pima County ahead of CDC on booster shots

Published: Nov. 17, 2021 at 6:42 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The Pima County Health Department has gone out in front on the Center’s for Disease Control and is urging anyone 18 years and older in Pima County, who are six months past their last vaccine, to get a booster shot.

The CDC is expected to follow suit later in the week.

The county has been following CDC guidelines since the beginning of the pandemic so this is a departure from its normal practices.

“We have made this decision with the understanding we are seeing acceleration in our community of COVID right now and are activating all the tools we have available,” said Dr. Theresa Cullen, the Pima County Health Director.

The biggest tool the county has is the needle.

“I think this is a call to the community,” Dr. Cullen said. “People who are not vaccinated need to get vaccinated, people who are vaccinated and are six months from their last shot need to get a booster, 5 to 11 year old’s need to vaccinate.”

Dr. Cullen calls this spike in cases “another surge”.

The speed with which the surge began and the speed with which it is progressing came as a surprise.

“We’ve been sitting on about two months of slow but steady gains and then two weeks ago out of nowhere it just popped up again,” said Dr. Joe Gerald, the Health Director at the University of Arizona.

Dr. Gerald believes there are a variety of reasons for the surge but believes the lack of vaccines is near the top of the list.

“We know the underlying problem,” he said. “Not enough Arizonans are vaccinated and not enough are taking appropriate precautions given the level of transmission in our community.”

As of now, just 60% of the residents in Pima County are fully vaccinated. When it’s limited to adults only, it jumps to 70% but still not enough to stop the virus from spreading.

“So if we’re not going to vaccinate and we’re not going to protect ourselves, this is what happens,” he said.

If last year is any indication, as the holidays approach and people travel more, the cases naturally increase.

Unvaccinated children who catch it in schools run a high probability of taking it home to the 40% of adults who are not vaccinated.

And there are breakthrough cases, mostly among the older population who have been vaccinated but have yet to receive a booster.

Cooler weather which forces people indoors where transmission is higher is also a factor.

Add them all up and it points to a difficult winter ahead especially for hospitals which are operating near capacity.

Dr. Cullen says in the past month ICU capacity in some hospitals has dropped to as low “as 2%” which leads to her concern about capacity.

“We’ve been in the red on our dashboard, we’ve been there for about the last month,” she said. “Our ICU bed situation is precarious at best.”

In part because winter visitors have begun arriving in Tucson which normally takes up some of the hospital capacity anyway but now with a surge in covid-19 cases, it makes a dire problem even worse.

“Overall our vaccination rates continue to creep up,” Dr. Cullen said. “But as you know, they creep up way too slowly.”

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