Allegheny County prepares for boosters; local COVID cases remain high

Vaccine providers in Allegheny County are preparing to administer COVID-19 booster shots, Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen said at a press briefing Wednesday, shortly before boosters for residents 65 and older received federal approval.

“We meet as a group and talk about vaccine distribution and vaccine needs in the county, and we’re all gearing up and will be ready when we’re given the signal to do so,” Bogen said.

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday evening authorized boosters for the people age 65 and older who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine more than six months ago. Individuals at high-risk are also eligible, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to give guidance soon on who qualifies. The federal government has not approved boosters of other COVID-19 vaccines.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health announced last week that, since January 2021, 97 percent of COVID-19-related deaths and 95 percent of reported hospitalizations due to COVID-19 were among unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people. A release from the Health Department Tuesday said there are more than 2,000 providers in the state with COVID-19 vaccine inventory.

“Vaccine providers — especially pharmacies — have already done a tremendous job administering more than 12 million vaccines across the state,” acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said during a Tuesday briefing. “Now they are ready to get booster shots to people as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

In Allegheny County, COVID-19 cases among residents remain high, with about 400 new cases reported each day last week, Bogen said. 

COVID-19 cases are significantly more frequent and severe among unvaccinated people, Bogen said. Since June, Allegheny County residents who are unvaccinated have been seven to eight times more likely to contract COVID-19, 10 times more likely to be hospitalized due to COVID-19 and 20 times more likely to die from COVID-19. 

Nearly 72% of Allegheny County residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Sept. 22, the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported

About 50 to 100 new COVID-19 cases are reported daily among children under the age of 12 in Allegheny County, Bogen said.

On Friday, UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh opened an outdoor medical tent to expand its ability to accommodate emergency pediatric patients, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

“For many, any wait at an emergency department is short,” Andrea Kunicky, public relations manager for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, wrote in a statement to PublicSource on Sept. 17. “But, given the high numbers of people seeking emergency care at some sites, esp. at this phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must use an initial triage process in each UPMC emergency department to help prioritize patients for care when immediate space isn’t available.”

Parents of children experiencing health issues not related to COVID-19 should seek help from a primary, urgent or emergency care provider, depending on the severity of the issue, Bogen said. Parents should be mindful of the level of care they need, she added.

As of Sept. 22, there are 12 pediatric intensive care unit beds available in Allegheny County, the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported.

— By Amelia Winger and Charlie Wolfson

Dr. Debra Bogen, a local doctor and professor at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, being introduced as Allegheny County’s new health director. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource/File

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PublicSource has been tracking COVID-19’s spread on a daily basis since March 2020. More than a year later, in an effort to direct our resources into enterprise reporting on the pandemic and other important issues, we will cover the Allegheny County Health Department’s weekly briefing on Wednesdays and update the numbers on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. We may adjust as the prevalence of the coronavirus ebbs and flows. If you have questions or comments, please email PublicSource’s managing editor halle@publicsource.org.

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