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Austin Public Health Prepares To Roll Out Booster Shots This Fall

 A health care worker puts a bandage on the arm of someone who just received a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccine clinic  in East Austin last month.
Michael Minasi
A health care worker puts a bandage on the arm of someone who just received a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccine clinic in East Austin last month.

Austin health officials say local COVID-19 cases likely haven’t reached their peak yet. Though cases and hospitalizations appeared to have flattened this week, officials say the area is likely to see those numbers increase over the next few weeks.

“It’s not clear that we’ve reached a peak,” Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said during a news conference Friday. "We would like to say that that is true, but we also know there is an impact that is going to be seen as a result of the opening of schools."

She said she is hopeful that if schools implement masking protocols, those numbers won’t keep surging. Several school districts, including Austin ISD, have opted to mandate masks, defying Gov. Greg Abbott’s order banning mask requirements. Walkes also said it’s imperative that parents keep children who are sick home from school to avoid any potential spread of disease.

Outside of the school setting, Austin Public Health officials are urging everyone to take action to mitigate COVID spread. The main message: get vaccinated, wear masks in public, and stay home when sick. The recent surge in cases, spurred by the highly contagious delta variant, has overwhelmed hospital staff and paramedics. As of Thursday, nine intensive care unit beds were available for the 11-county region that includes Austin-Travis County.

Watch the press conference below:

Walkes said she encourages people to get treatment for COVID-19 to help prevent a need for hospitalization. The state has reopened a monoclonal antibody treatment center in Austin this week. To be eligible, people have to be referred by a doctor. Walkes said the treatment is reserved for people with the potential to develop severe disease from COVID.

The current surge in cases is largely caused by people who are not vaccinated, Walkes said. About 80% of COVID-19 patients in the Austin area are unvaccinated, according to APH data from the first two weeks of August.

“This is a time when we have to remember that vaccines work,” she said. “They have been working to prevent severe disease, hospitalizations, ICU admissions and death. And we need to get ourselves vaccinated and protected.”

Austin Public Health and a number of pharmacies and clinics across Austin are offering the vaccine. Currently, 65.49% of people 12 and older in Travis County are fully vaccinated. In an attempt to get more people vaccinated, APH unrolled an incentive program this week, offering $50 H-E-B gift cards to people who receive their first or second shot from APH.

The health agency is also preparing to roll out booster shots this fall. U.S. health officials announced this week that third doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will become available for adults next month.

“We now know there is some waning or decreasing immunity over time for those of us who have received vaccines,” Walkes said.

People 18 and older will be eligible for the booster shot eight months after their second dose. Cassandra DeLeon, APH chief administrative officer for disease prevention and health promotion, said APH is working to increase its vaccine clinic capacity so it can start distributing those third doses to eligible individuals in September. DeLeon said she anticipates there will be enough vaccines to meet the demand for boosters.

DeLeon noted there are a lot more vaccine providers and available doses in the Austin community than when vaccines first began being distributed.

"[We] are confident there would be plenty of supply to meet the demands that we might see come Sept. 20," she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is currently recommending certain people with weakened immune systems, like those going through cancer treatment or taking medication that impacts their immune system, get a third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. DeLeon said she encourages people to talk with a health care provider to see if that third dose is needed.

Austin Public Health is offering third doses to eligible people on a walk-up basis at their clinics. UT Health Austin and a number of pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS, are also offering the third dose.

Interim APH Director Adrienne Sturrup said it’s important to understand that the current surge is more than just numbers; individuals are being impacted greatly. She encouraged people to think about the small things they can do that can have a significant impact on those around them — get a vaccine, stay home when sick, wear a mask.

“Yes, the data is important,” Sturrup said, “but we have to recognize there are people whose lives are being altered — whether through a decrease in health or loss of a loved one.”

“This right here,” she said, holding a mask, “can change that.”

Marisa Charpentier is KUT's assistant digital editor. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @marisacharp.
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