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Public Health Update: Bivalent COVID-19 Boosters Now Available for Kids 5-11; Monkeypox Cases Lowest Since July

LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer at her weekly briefing on Thursday.


While health officials say they’re still expecting both flu and COVID-19 surges this winter, both COVID-19 cases and numbers of new monkeypox cases continued to decline this week…and the new bivalent COVID booster has been approved for children ages 5-11.




In her weekly address on Thursday, LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer reported yet another 20% decline in new COVID-19 cases this week, down to just under 950 per day, which keeps us in the “low” community tier, as defined by the CDC, for the seventh week in a row.  Hospitalizations and deaths have both plateaued in recent weeks.



But while those numbers show no immediate cause for concern, Ferrer debuted a new wastewater-monitoring metric this week, which combines reports from the four wastewater districts that used to be reported individually. And that chart shows a noticeable uptick in COVID-19 levels this week, which Ferrer said may be a sign that case numbers may be poised for a seasonal increase. (Wastewater monitoring can often provide the earliest signal of case increases or decreases because it does not rely on whether or not people get tested for COVID-19, or whether or not they report test results.)



Ferrer said officials do expect a seasonal increase in COVID-19 cases, as we’ve had for the last two winters, but also that she hopes this year’s increase will be more manageable than those of the last two years because we now have more people vaccinated, more people with at least some immunity from prior infections, and better vaccines, more specifically targeted to the current virus variants…all of which should help keep serious illness, hospitalizations, and deaths lower than in the last couple of winters.

Another sign that a winter increase may be on the way, Ferrer said, is rising numbers of COVID cases in Europe, which often precede increases in the United States. And cases are now trending upward in France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Germany.



Currently, however, while officials are tracking several new COVID-19 strains, Ferrer said we have yet to see large increases in new variants of concern here in LA County.  Currently, 100% of our cases are still attributable to some variety of the Omicron strain, with BA.5 still accounting for 91% of our cases.  BA.4.6 cases declined very slightly this week, and the BA.2.75 subvariant increased slightly to 1.5% of cases, but so far LA County has only reported three cases of the more concerning BA.2.75.2 variant. And although there was a very slight increase in the BF.7 variant (also known as BA., its numbers, too, remain very low so far, accounting for only 2.1% of all cases.  Also, while BA.2.75.2 and BF.7 have been reported to be more able to to evade immunity from vaccinations and prior infections, Ferrer said the current vaccines – especially this year’s most recent boosters, which target BA.4 and BA.5 variants – should be well-matched to the newcomers.



Ferrer said the most important way for people to protect themselves this winter, when there are more large gatherings of people, and more indoor gatherings, is to get vaccinated (for both COVID-19 and influenza), and for those whose last COVID-19 booster shot was more than two months ago, to also get the new booster to protect against the BA.4 and BA.5 variants.

And to help with that effort, Ferrer announced that the new bivalent boosters were approved this week for use in children ages 5-11, and will be widely available, at more than 625 sites across the county, by next week.



Currently, Ferrer said, the bivalent boosters are already very available for everyone age 12 and older who had their primary vaccines or most recent booster more than two months ago.  And even though people may be tiring of getting new booster shots every few months, Ferrer said, this one is particularly important because it is specifically matched (like the annual flu vaccine) to the virus strains currently circulating.

Ferrer also reported, however, that so far, while 81% of LA County residents age 12 and older have received their primary vaccines, and 59% have received one of the previous booster shots, only 7% so far have received the new bivalent boosters to protect against the current BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, which she said is our best hope of avoiding a big winter surge this year.



Ferrer closed by saying that we are in a good position this year to avoid a dangerous surge, because we now know a lot more about COVID-19 and how it spreads, and how to protect ourselves.  So we should use all our available tools – including vaccinations, masking where appropriate, frequent testing, etc. – to help slow the spread of COVID this winter, and to protect both ourselves and the most vulnerable members of our community from serious illness.




Following Ferrer’s presentation, LA County Chief Medical Officer Rital Singhal provided her weekly update on monkeypox in LA County, and reported that local numbers of new cases are continuing their downward trend, with only 7 new cases reported this week, which is the lowest number since mid-July.



Singhal attributed the continuing decline in local monkeypox cases to increased immunity from both vaccines and prior infections, and to behavioral changes in the groups most likely to become infected.

Singhal also said, however, that it’s unlikely that, despite current declines, monkeypox will disappear entirely.  This is because, she said, although cases are declining here, there are still other states and countries where cases are increasing, and because Los Angeles is such an international hub, it’s likely that new cases will continue to arrive and spread here…so it’s important to remain vigilant, and to encourage as many people as possible to get vaccinated.

Finally, Singhal reported, vaccine eligibility has been updated again this week, with the most recent eligible group definitions now including any man or transgender person who has sex with men or transgender persons…and persons of any gender of sexual orientation who engage in commercial and/or transactional sex, or have sex in association with a large public event.



Also, as with COVID-19, the monkeypox vaccine is given in a two-dose sequence, and Singhal reported that more than half of those who have had their first vaccinations and are eligible for a second have not yet had their second dose, which is important for optimum protection.



Singhal said there are plenty of doses available now, though, so anyone who is eligible should get one as soon as possible.



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Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and has been writing for the Buzz since 2015.

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