Theresa Freed 00:00
Johnson County Department of Health and Environment encourages immunocompromised residents to get an additional dose on this episode here the latest on how you can promote COVID-19 immunity.
Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you go home.
Theresa Freed 00:24
Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go, I'm your host Theresa Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. A lot going on in the world of COVID-19 transmission and vaccines. Here to talk more about that is Dr. Sanmi Areola. Johnson County Department of Health and Environment director. Thanks for being with us.
Dr. Sanmi Areola 00:43
Thanks for having me, Theresa.
Theresa Freed 00:45
Ok, first off, can you just talk a little bit about the transmission levels right now in the community and the impact that we're seeing on our healthcare systems?
Dr. Sanmi Areola 00:53
The activity level of the virus measured by actual infections, positivity rate, incidence rates are too high. We right at about 385 cases per 100,000 residents for the past two weeks positivity rate is over 9%. To put that in perspective, when I presented the to the Board of County Commissioners, early June, positivity rate was at 1.3%. So that's an eight fold increase right now. And that's also true for incidence rate where we were as low as four to seven per 100,000 residents for the preceding 14 days is now at 385. That's also an eight fold increase. As I've said several times, we have a responsibility to bring those numbers down. It is safer to keep our schools open in person, it is safer for our children to be in school, if we reduce the opportunity for the virus to spread. It is easier on our health systems on our hospitals if infections are down right now. They are to capacity, they are having staff that are have to be excluded, because they are positive or they are in quarantine. And, and also because we've been doing dealing with this now for about 20 months, staff are stressed. And so there was pressure, I think collectively as a community is a responsibility that we have to take seriously. And I know that we do and I know that we have. But that's what we are facing right now is another opportunity for the community to rise up, we need to wear masks, we need to get that vaccine into the arms of more people. Right now, using using citizens data, just under 72% of our residents are fully vaccinated, those that are eligible. One thing we have to keep in mind is those that are younger than 12 are not even currently eligible. And that's a big part of our population. How do we protect them, so protect them, those that surround them, where they live, where they play, where they go to school, they need to get vaccinated, if people at home around them are vaccinated people are school around the vaccinated people where they play are vaccinated. And we mask, we protect them even though they are now currently eligible. And I think that's a responsibility that we all we all share.
Theresa Freed 03:41
So we're hearing quite a few reports now that patients may be waiting in ERs and the hospitals are at capacity and they're short staffed, as you mentioned. So we're seeing a lot of the the people with COVID in the hospitals are the ones who are unvaccinated. Is that right?
Dr. Sanmi Areola 04:01
That is correct. I had the meeting with local health systems a couple of days ago. And now medical director, Dr. Brian Jacobson was there also. And so typically when we meet, we ask them where they are. And really they'll do our reporting 90%, 80% of the infections in unvaccinated persons and another five to 10% in immunocompromised people with conditions that maybe will not allow the robust immune response to the vaccine. And and so that that's, again, another testament to the efficacy and of the vaccine. If you are vaccinated even with infection, you don't it doesn't rise up to the level of being hospitalized or dying and so it does blunt the severity of the illness. And that's why it's it's important. But yes, our specialists are stressed. The EMS are trying to find space for people with other conditions, having to spend more time looking for where where space is, and I spoke to all of them. They said in some cases, they have beds, they just don't have staff to do that. Now we are having people that are transported to emergency rooms having to wait 30 minutes one or several hours before they can find space for them. It's just not the ideal situation. In our community, if people need emergency medical services, they should be able to get it. And the hospitals are not accepting transfers, they just don't have this capacity. Now, again, it is a responsibility that collectively as a county, we have to take, seriously, we have to wear a mask, we have to avoid crowded environments, we have to get vaccinated, those are the paths out of where we are. And where we are is now sustainable is now where we want to be for a long time. My job is to create conditions that support health. My job is to ensure that in the county, everyone, everyone, no matter who they are, where they are, have the opportunity to be as healthy as they as they can be. And that's part of our message to you is right now, because of the pandemic, we are putting a strain on our health systems, and there's something that we can do about it. And I'm asking everyone to join us in doing that.
Theresa Freed 04:25
All right. And speaking of immunocompromised residents, the CDC recently came out with some new guidance pertaining to them, to encouraging them, to get additional an additional dose. So can you talk about that who falls in that category?
Dr. Sanmi Areola 07:05
Right, so the new guidelines from the CDC regarding the third or the additional dose for certain people moderately to severely immune, immunocompromised persons, is, again, because of certain things, maybe medication, organ transplant, HIV positive, all of those other factors that could impact the ability of your system to mount a robust immune response to the vaccine. So there's enough evidence showing that an additional dose is very helpful to those group of people. And so the way that I have said it to people on the web that FDA really explains that it's that you've got to do that in consultation with your attending physician. If you fall into that category, please go and do that. They we have seen cases where even after the second dose, just checking the antibody levels, it's it's insufficient to protect you against COVID infection. So if you fall into that category, I am encouraging you consult with your with your physician gave that third dose, and before FDA and CDC approved that they look at all of the available data. And right now, we want you to be protected fully. And that additional dose takes you closer to being protected.
Theresa Freed 08:54
So the the third dose for those who are immune compromised, shouldn't be confused with a booster shot for the general population. So can you kind of talk about how those those terms are used? And then also what's the projection for boosters for that larger group?
Dr. Sanmi Areola 09:09
Right. So So boosters are different. We don't currently have an approval or a directive from CDC for providing boosters to the general population. The additional dose that's currently approved is again, for a moderately or severely immunocompromised boosters are different. So every one of us that have taken the first two shots of the mRNA vaccines that's the Pfizer BioNtech and Moderna would be eligible for a booster shot when it is approved. Now the reason I said when is we have had in the news, eight months after the second shot. Yesterday we had possibly six months, but those are in the news. We take our instruction from the CDC and the KDHE. We don't have those yet. When we do, we'll let you know. But the way that that's going to shape up is we have seen scientifically evidence that a third dose significantly boosts the immune response. And in theory, that just means a more robust defense against serious, severe symptoms, hospitalizations, and deaths. that results from COVID. Now, when that becomes available, when we have the directive from CDC, we will let you know. Of course, we have vaccinated hundreds of thousands of persons in our county. So logistically, we are starting to work on those things, we are consulting with our health systems. One of the good things right now is we have a lot more providers in the county than we did in January when we were vaccinating. But also, the challenges that the health systems are facing in terms of staff shortages, is going to play a role. But we have reached out to everyone we are looking at ensuring that we vaccinate our most vulnerable population in the long term care facilities. When we went through the first the first vaccination campaign, they were vaccinated through the federal pharmacy partnership program. And so we're looking at whether that will still be in play. And, and I think recent evidence suggests that the federal government might support that too. And that would be that would be pretty good. I've checked with all of our health systems that are going to participate. Maybe it's in slightly different ways than they did the last time but they will be they will be offering the vaccine when the directives come. And so as we said earlier, in the year, still, the fastest route is through your relationship with your primary care physician, your doctor's office, they have the vaccine. But again, we don't have the directive. Now when we do we will be providing more information to the general public.
Theresa Freed 12:10
And we're already getting questions from the public, who used our vaccine clinics early on, I want to get on your list to get a booster. And so just to be clear, there is no list at this time and the process might look different.
Dr. Sanmi Areola 12:23
There is no list at this time. Every I don't have a directive, official directive from the CDC, or KDHE, everything that we're saying is largely in the news. And yes, we have been on a few official calls with their federal agencies to know what's going on. And so but again, that is no list, and the process will be different. But when we have the directive, and we firm up the logistics, we will keep you informed or reach out to you. Here's what here's what you should know. You have we want you to get this shot, we will give you all the opportunities to get the shot.
Theresa Freed 13:09
Perfect. Okay. Well, also from the federal government, we recently heard that at the FDA gave full approval for the Pfizer vaccine. So can you talk a little bit about that? And then I'm sure people who maybe got the Johnson and Johnson or got the Moderna are wondering, does that mean my vaccine is any less effective?
Dr. Sanmi Areola 13:28
Thank you. That that's a great question. A few days ago, the FDA gave full approval to the Pfizer Ntech vaccine for those that are 16. Plus, you would remember that the approval for 12 to 15 year old came later. So be clear. It's still the same vaccine that we were giving a few months ago. It's the same formulation, the same dosage. It's not any different. It's just the process. So again, because of the benefits, and because of where we were we were it was pretty clear that an emergency-use authorization was needed. Because the process for the full approval takes time. We couldn't afford to wait. Again, after having tested those vaccines through very rigorous the United States as the most rigorous process for approving chemicals, pharmaceuticals coming into the market. They were tested in 10s of 1000s of people through multiple stages. They were tested for efficacy, they were tested for safety. And again, the to add to those tests before the emergency use authorization is the fact that we have now given those vaccines to hundreds of millions of people. We continue to see even with the large data that they are very efficacious, and they're very safe. And that is the theme for all three of the vaccines. Right. So I expect in the coming weeks of amongst that we'll see similar full approval for the Moderna. For the Johnson and Johnson, and for Pfizer, 12 to 15 year olds. Those are going to come, but they don't change what we know about the vaccine, they don't change. They don't change the formulation, it doesn't change the fact that they continue to protect against death, and hospitalizations and severe illnesses, even with the more infectious Delta variant, that stays consistent that those that are vaccinated have no symptoms, mild symptoms, they don't die. And that's the that's the key thing that we are seeing, even with the uptick in number of infections arising from from from Delta.
Theresa Freed 16:01
Alright, and as we wrap up our conversation, we wanted to turn it back to schools. So the school year just started up and we saw we are seeing a lot of the Johnson County school districts utilizing the the safety protocols of masking and social distancing, or physical distancing, and then hand washing and all of that. So are we seeing an impact are we seeing increased levels of transmission among the school children at this point,
Dr. Sanmi Areola 16:29
We are seeing an an impact. Kudos to the Board of County Commissioners in their capacity as the Board of Health for passing the mandate for K through 6. an even bigger decision for our school districts five out of six, extended that K through 12. Requiring masks. And we have seen this school year across the country, as schools in in Georgia schools in Missouri schools in Mississippi, who opened Arkansas opened without masks and have to shut down or go virtual or require our mandate mask within days of opening. In our cases, we are picking up the infections early because of wearing mask. And because we're increasing vaccination in 12 to 15 year olds as well as we've had a huge portion of the staff and teachers vaccinated. We are testing early when we pick up symptoms and identifying cases, putting them in isolation and quarantining close contacts, again, those that are vaccinated are not considered close contacts. If both both parties are wearing masks, we don't consider them close contacts. But you can see we are succeeding in keeping children in school in person because of those efforts, and there's going to be some outbreaks, no question about it. But really, really appreciative and happy about where things are, it continues to be something that we have to monitor Ah, we've dedicated a lot of resources to that entire case investigation and contact tracing is prioritizing students because we want to keep our schools open. We have an epidemiologist, a case investigator, a contact tracer assigned to each of the school districts. And I'm just working with them to ensure that we keep our schools open. Now, success and the ability to do that depends on the cooperation that we receive from the schools. It depends on the schools working with us when there's a case and and working with us to do the proper exclusions, as long as those continue, I'm pretty optimistic that we'll continue to do what is the primary goal. Let our students be in school in person to take advantage of the social, emotional mental benefits of interacting with others and learning in person.
Theresa Freed 19:16
Alright, great information. And again, thank you as always for being with us and sharing this important information with our listeners.
Dr. Sanmi Areola 19:25
Thank you for having me. Thank you very much.
Theresa Freed 19:27
All right. And to get more information about COVID-19 and Johnson County visit jocogov.org/coronavirus. Thanks for listening.
You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at JoCoGov. For more on this podcast, visit jocogov.org/podcast. Thanks for listening.