Health officials say too few boosters behind rising COVID hospitalizations in parts of California

COVID-19 hospitalizations are rising in some regions of California, with areas where there are lower vaccination rates recording hospitalization spikes, and COVID-19 admissions ticking up even in places with relatively high vaccination rates, The Los Angeles Times reported Nov. 9.

Some officials are pointing to a low uptake of booster shots, with statewide demand lower than anticipated. Health officials are warning that seniors who got their shots last winter and haven't received a booster may see immunity start to wane, increasing exposure risk, especially as outdoor temperatures drop and the holidays approach.

Across California, both COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have plateaued after months of decline. Virus admissions have remained flat in some areas with higher vaccination rates, such as San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County. 

Areas with lower vaccination rates, such as Riverside, San Bernardino and Fresno counties, are experiencing spikes in COVID-19 hospitalizations. Virus hospitalizations have risen by more than 27 percent in San Bernardino and Fresno counties since mid-October. Admissions in Riverside County are up 21 percent over the last two weeks. 

Even Orange County, which has reported a high vaccination rate, is reporting a 16 percent rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations since Oct. 31.

"The bigger hospitals are probably between 110 percent to 130 percent of normal capacity,"  said Dan Lynch, director of the Central California Emergency Medical Services Agency. "And they are all holding ICU patients, again, back in their emergency departments. We’re seeing the hospital emergency departments overwhelmed."

It's imperative that unvaccinated people get their shots, including children who just became eligible, said George Rutherford, MD, epidemiologist and infectious disease expert at UC San Francisco. People who are immunocompromised or older than 65 need boosters to improve immunity, Dr. Rutherford said. According to CDC data cited by the Times, less than 33 percent of fully vaccinated California residents 65 and older have received a booster shot, "which is a big problem that needs to be addressed," Dr. Rutherford said.

Officials have expressed hope that strict vaccination requirements in some of the state's more populous areas will help slow the spread of COVID-19 this winter.  


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