COVID-19 cases are rising in the Delaware Valley and in January the City of Philadelphia will require people to show proof of vaccination to eat at restaurants indoors or go inside sports and entertainment venues.
Cases are rising despite the widespread availability of vaccines, which state and county officials encourage residents to receive. And the state Department of Health confirmed after following the approval process by the federal government last week, that 16- and 17-year-olds in Pennsylvania are now eligible for a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster shot. The booster is only approved after six months of completing the primary Pfizer vaccination.
Those who are 16 and 17 years old are only eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine, while anyone 18 years and older may receive any vaccine regardless of which vaccine they originally received.
“It is great news to see booster eligibility expanded and we know providers are ready to offer more protection for Pennsylvanians,” Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson said while visiting the community COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Gettysburg College recently. “The Department of Health urges all eligible Pennsylvanians who have yet to get vaccinated to do so immediately and for those people who are eligible to receive a booster shot to get that added level of protection as soon as possible.”
Pennsylvania vaccine providers, including federally qualified health centers, pediatricians, pharmacies, and primary care physicians can schedule booster shots and are ready to administer booster appointments quickly.
Johnson emphasized the importance of vaccines for those eligible, including those 5 to 11 years old.
“The pediatric vaccine is safe, and it is highly effective at protecting children against COVID-19-related illness, hospitalization, and death. I am impressed by the tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians who are stepping up every day to get their first, second, or third dose of vaccine to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their neighbors against COVID-19,” Johnson said. “That’s why the COVID-19 vaccines are our best protection against the virus.”
Cases continue to rise in Montgomery County, which happened last year with the onset of colder weather and people sending more time indoors. However, the overall approximate numbers in Montgomery County are still significantly lower than the same time last year.
“For the second half of November 2020, the daily rate went from 250 to 325, with a peak of 350 around Thanksgiving,” said Dr. Richard Lorraine, Medical Director for the Montgomery County Office of Public Health. “This year, the same time period ranged from 180 to 240 with a peak of 260 again around Thanksgiving.”
While case numbers seem to have plateaued, there is now a seasonal increase as expected. The rate of increase is still relatively slow, and the total number of cases is noticeably lower than last year. While that is always subject to change, the decrease in the overall amplitude may be reflective of the increased population immunity due to vaccination and natural immunity.
As this cycle continues over time, Lorraine is optimistic that Montgomery County will eventually be able to make the shift from pandemic to endemic.
“Thus far, preliminary data seems to indicate that the omicron variant may be somewhat more contagious than previous strains, but it seems to be causing milder illness overall,” Lorraine said. “If this trend continues, it might indicate that we will see a more severe cold season for the winter, but hopefully not as much impact on overall COVID hospitalizations and deaths which is why we will continue to monitor the data.”