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Greater Cincinnati lags in COVID-19 vaccines. So, should you get a second booster? (Enquirer)

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If you’re 50 or older you’re among those who just got a nod from federal health officials for a second COVID-19 booster vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is updating its recommendations to allow certain immunocompromised individuals and people over 50 to be eligible for another mRNA booster if four months have passed since their first. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week authorized the extra shot.

But should you get one? And if so, where?

A handful of the 16 counties in the Cincinnati region area lag in the nation in getting boosters, even though most counties lag the nation in vaccination rates. Two counties, Hamilton and Warren, have booster rates just above 50%.

The region’s record on boosters is better than its standing in completed COVID-19 vaccinations, which lags the nation, an Enquirer analysis of CDC data shows.

Who should get a COVID-19 booster?

We asked local health officials what they think about a fourth COVID-19 vaccine and what public health is offering to assist those who want another jab.

Dr. Louito Edje, associate dean for graduate medical education at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and a family medicine physician at UC Health, said anyone healthy and over 65 should feel comfortable getting boosted without consulting their primary care provider. But, she added, if there’s any question about whether they’re at high risk, they should talk to their doctor first.

As for those 50 to 65 years old, Edje said, “We just don’t have the data to support everyone getting a fourth dose.” But he pointed out that if a person is at high risk for COVID-19, an additional shot is a good idea.

Northern Kentucky interim District Health Director Steve Divine said the second booster is primarily aimed at groups that are most vulnerable to severe COVID-19 illness and death. “While this latest information was just released, we recommend that individuals speak with their medical provider to discuss their specific situation and if a second booster makes sense for them,” he said.

That contact-your-doctor idea was supported by several public health officials in the Cincinnati area and the Health Collaborative, the region’s joint organization of hospital systems. Here’s what they said about how they’re handling vaccines, including boosters.

Hamilton County Public Health has vaccine clinics

The county’s public health department still has a main vaccination clinic at the county board of elections office and welcomes walk-ins. All the vaccine clinics are prepared for those seeking COVID-19 vaccines, and will be so for those who want a fourth shot, said Mike Samet, health department spokesman. He acknowledged, “Vaccine rates certainly have slowed considerably, although we are still doing some first doses.”

Samet said that at this point, people who received their initial two-dose vaccination should be receiving a booster shot. Anyone who isn’t vaccinated should seek information, Samet said, to clear up their questions. “Our nurses at our clinics and on our phone lines can answer questions and provide information to help guide vaccine decisions.”

Butler County General Health District to offer weekly vaccine clinic

“I think (a second booster) is going to be something that people over 50 should consider – especially people who have underlying health conditions that put them at increased risk (for getting COVID-19),” said Erin Smiley, public information officer.

Butler County General Health District just ended its weekly (sometimes biweekly) clinics at the Butler County Education Services Center because, Smiley said, demand dwindled. But vaccinations, booster shots of all different types will remain available from the department free of cost. Butler County is shifting its clinics to 10 a.m. to noon every Tuesday, at least for a while, see how it goes, at its main offices, 301 S. Third St. Hamilton. Smiley noted that if groups or locations (such as churches) would like to partner on special, on-site vaccination clinics, county public health providers are glad to help out.

Cincinnati Health Department awaits guidance

“When we are directed to proceed with administering the booster, CHD has a plan to administer at our current vaccine site locations,” officials said in a statement. For updated information, city residents are encouraged to visit the health department’s online site and click on its COVID-19 tab. There, the city updates information on who is eligible and other recommendations and provides online scheduling for vaccines. Those without internet access who wish to schedule a vaccine appointment may call 513-357-7462.

Warren County Health District offers vaccine by appointment

COVID-19 vaccines are the “best protection against serious illness and death from COVID-19,” said Warren County Health Commissioner Duane Stansbury. “But that protection weakens over time.”

Booster doses can help restore and maintain the vaccine protection, Stansbury said, and he added that while people 50 and older may receive a second booster if the timing fits the recommendation, the second dose might be most beneficial to those 65 and older or people 50 to 64 who have certain underlying conditions. Once again, Stansbury emphasized that people should talk with their primary care provider.

Anyone in the Warren County Health District who wants to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment is asked to call 513-695-2428.

The county health commissioner said that even those who have had COVID-19 should be vaccinated because it’s possible, though rare, to get infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 again.

A billboard on West Third Street in Covington encourages Kentucky residents to get a booster shot to protect themselves and others against COVID-19.

Northern Kentucky Health Department gives vaccines at health centers, won’t have extra events

“Individuals meeting these new criteria and desiring to get a second booster shot can do so at numerous medical providers in the community and supplies are plentiful,” Divine said. “At this time, NKY Health does not have plans to provide specific vaccination events as were done early in the pandemic.”

Divne said Northern Kentucky has about 68% of its eligible population vaccinated with at least one dose, 63% have had their two-dose series and about 25% have received a booster shot.

“Our current focus is to encourage those individuals at greatest risk of severe illness to consider receiving a booster dose when eligible,” he said.

Vaccine and information site Test and Protect Cincy will continue updates

Regionwide, the Health Collaborative noted that anyone can use its website’s COVID-19 information hub, TestandProtectCincy, to get answers about COVID-19, to find out and schedule testing and sign up or learn about walk-in clinics for vaccination.