FDA OKs fourth booster for over 50

Peninsula case rates creep up

The Food and Drug Administration announced that it has approved adults over 50 get a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Their (FDA) process this time was odd,” said Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties.

“Usually there is a committee recommendation by the FDA and then a public meeting and then the same thing with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) but with an overall formal recommendation.

“I think that process is really helpful from a transparency perspective so we can all, if we choose to, kind of log-in and look at the data and see their discussions. This time it was handled a little differently,” Berry continued.

“The current guidance is that it (a second booster) should be an option, that people who want a fourth dose who are over 50 or have immunosuppressing conditions should have that option available to them, but there’s not really that formal stamp of approval that we think you need this right now,” she said.

The CDC quickly backed the FDA decision, allowing the shots to be administered. Both agencies made the decision without consulting their committees of independent vaccine experts.

Berry said looking at the data right now it is too early to tell if a fourth dose is necessary, but she said a fourth dose is safe for those who want it and are eligible.

“The most important thing is to get vaccinated, especially if you are over 65 and have an underlying health condition, and it’s really important to move forward with that booster,” Berry said.

The last few COVID-19 deaths on the North Olympic Peninsula have been people over 65 who were vaccinated but not boosted and had underlying health conditions.

No new deaths have been reported in either county since Friday, but cases and case rates have jumped up a bit since then.

Clallam County saw 35 new cases, bringing its total cases since the pandemic began from 10,948 to 10,983 on Tuesday. The case rate also jumped from 83 cases per 100,000 population to 103 cases per 100,000.

Jefferson County saw 25 new cases,bringing its total cases since the pandemic began from 3,159 to 3,184. Its case rate also jumped from 65 cases per 100,000 population to 124 cases per 100,000.

That changes the guidance on wearing masks indoors.

“We have just ticked up over the 100 cases per 100,000 thresholds, so we do recommend wearing masks in indoor settings,” Berry said.

”It’s an easy thing for us to do, and I definitely would recommend we wear masks until we see which way these cases are going.”

Berry said the bump in cases was anticipated following the lifting of the majority of the COVID-19 safety mandates as well as the proof of vaccination mandates earlier this month.

“Certainly if we see a significant surge and we get up to 200 cases per 100,000, then we are going to strongly recommend we all put our masks back on, but right now I would say it’s a reasonable thing to do…and can certainly help us get these numbers under control,” Berry said.

Case rates are a reflection of cases reported during a two-week period. They are computed using a formula based on a 100,000 population even for counties that do not have 100,000 people living in them.

At this point, one case of the BA.2 subvariant of omicron has been diagnosed on the Peninsula, but Berry expects to see more.

“Looking at the sequencing data at the state level we are seeing a little under one-third of cases are BA.2 right now,” she said.

”We have had just the one in Clallam so far, so we do think most of the cases we are seeing are BA.1, but that will change in the coming weeks.”

The BA.2 subvariant already makes up 54 percent of recent COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and is now the dominant strain of COVID-19. It has been described by some health officials as more transmissible but less severe than omicron.

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Reporter Ken Park can be reached at [email protected].

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