Third doses of COVID-19 vaccine for severely immune-compromised

SAN LUIS OBISPO — The County of San Luis Obispo (SLO) Public Health Department reported on Tuesday, Aug. 17, that two SLO County residents passed, one in their twenties and one in their nineties. Both deaths are said to be COVID-related. 

Currently, twenty-four residents are in the hospital experiencing COVID-19 related symptoms, including eight in the ICU. 

According to the County, 778 new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in San Luis Obispo County in the past week. 

Getting through this together, Paso Robles

The county still has not addressed the current PCR testing that is the “Gold Standard,” according to Dr. Penny Borenstein, County Health Officer, since the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced that on Dec. 31, they will withdraw the request to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) of the CDC 2019-Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Real-Time RT-PCR Diagnostic Panel. 

According to the CDC, the PCR test that has been used solely in San Luis Obispo County and nationally is inaccurate and could potentially risk false results. Therefore, they encourage laboratories to consider adopting a multiplexed method to facilitate the detection and differentiation of SARS-CoV-2 and influenza viruses. 

“These losses are devastating for everyone involved and especially so when we lose a member of our community at such a young age,” said Dr. Penny Borenstein, County Health Officer. “I extend my heartfelt condolences to their family, friends, and loved ones. I implore our community members of all ages: protect themselves with the vaccine. We have the power to prevent these tragic losses.” 

In releasing this information to the public, Dr. Borenstein did not give any information as to what may have caused the illness in the recent deaths of the two individuals (21 and 90 years old). Whether or not they had any other contributing factors such as comorbidities, immune-compromised, or had any other illnesses that the community could be aware of to protect themselves. Nor was it mentioned if they were vaccinated or not. 

According to Borenstein, all cases sequenced in the past week were of the highly contagious Delta variant. This finding is consistent with statewide data showing more than 90 percent of all strains identified were Delta in the month of July. Because the Delta variant spreads more easily, officials say it results in more people becoming ill. 

It has been reported that detecting the Delta variant or other variants requires a special type of testing called genomic sequencing. However, due to the volume of COVID-19 cases, sequencing is not performed on all viral samples.

However, because the Delta variant now accounts for the majority of COVID-19 cases in the United States, there is a strong likelihood that a positive test result indicates infection with the Delta variant.

Third Doses of COVID-19 Vaccine Soon Available for Severely Immune Compromised Residents

Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recent recommendation of third doses of the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines for those with certain specific conditions that compromise the immune system, the Public Health Department will begin offering third-dose appointments at its clinics starting Monday, Aug. 23.

“This is an important step to protect those individuals who are at the greatest risk due to COVID-19,” said Dr. Penny Borenstein, County Health Officer. 

People with compromised immune systems may have a reduced ability to respond to vaccines, including for COVID-19. New data shows the third dose of mRNA vaccine helps increase vaccine effectiveness for this group. The need for this third dose is not due to a waning effect of the two-dose regimen; instead, the standard two-dose regimen does not produce the same degree of protection in immunocompromised individuals as in people who are not immune-compromised.

CDC recommends third doses for those who have:

  • Been receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood.
  • Received an organ transplant and are taking medicine to suppress the immune system.
  • Received a stem cell transplant within the last two years or are taking medicine to suppress the immune system.
  • Moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (such as DiGeorge syndrome or Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome).
  • Advanced or untreated HIV infection.
  • Active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress your immune response.

Public Health will offer appointments by Monday, Aug. 23 at Public Health clinics in San Luis Obispo, Grover Beach, and Paso Robles. Individuals will self-attest to their specific condition and will not need a doctor’s note. Third doses will not be offered at mobile clinics and are not recommended or available at Public Health clinics for those who do not meet CDC criteria.

On Tuesday, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer issued a statement regarding the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup’s recommendation to support an additional COVID-19 vaccine dose for individuals whose immune systems are compromised.

“As California continues to see an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, it is critical we take action to protect immunocompromised people who are most vulnerable to severe disease,” said Dr. Aragón. 

“Following the FDA’s determination that a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine is beneficial for people who are immunocompromised, the California Department of Public Health and our partners in the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup have conducted an additional review and recommend providers boost immunity for this population to ensure extra protection from COVID-19. Those who are not in this population and are fully vaccinated continue to be protected against the virus and do not need additional immunization against COVID-19 at this time.”

To get your COVID-19 vaccine at a Public Health clinic in Paso Robles, Grover Beach, or San Luis Obispo, visit MyTurn.ca.gov or call (833)422-4255 to choose your location, time, and vaccine type. 

For updates on COVID-19 in SLO County, visit ReadySLO.org.