Add To Favorites

Marin seniors advised to consider COVID-19 booster

Marin Independent Journal - 5/20/2024

May 21—Marin County public health officials have endorsed a federal recommendation for adults aged 65 years and older to receive an additional dose of the updated COVID-19 vaccine.

"But it's definitely not with the same fanfare as in the past," said Dr. Lisa Santora, Marin deputy public health officer.

The decision is complicated for anyone contemplating getting the booster now. That is because a four-month interval is required between inoculations.

"The challenge right now," Santora said, "is that you would have to wait at least four months to get your fall booster. We're already into May so you would have to wait until October."

Santora said the amount of virus circulating in the community currently is relatively low. It could be much higher by fall.

On Friday, the county's public health department said in its newsletter that wastewater samples indicate that local transmission is on the rise, with 27% of samples taken last month testing positive for KP.2, also referred to as the FLiRT variant.

The variant is replacing JN.1 strain nationally. FLiRT is not one specific strain. It is a nickname given to a series of mutations — S:F456L and S:R346T — culled from the letters in the technical mutation names.

While symptoms and severity seem to be about the same as previous COVID strains, the new FLiRT variants appear to be more transmissible, said infectious disease expert Dr. Robert Murphy.

"A new, more contagious variant is out there," said Murphy, executive director of Northwestern University'sInstitute for Global Health and a professor of infectious diseases at the Feinberg School of Medicine. "COVID-19 is still with us, and compared to flu and RSV, COVID-19 can cause significant problems off-season."

Marin residents 65 and older who are in good health might want to consult with their doctor before scheduling the booster, but Santora said those with health insurance who want the additional protection are able to request it.

In Marin County, more than 90% of local COVID-19 hospitalizations have occurred among seniors.

"All of our COVID deaths in 2023 were in the population over 65 years old," Santora said.

About 59% of Marin residents 65 or older are up to date with their COVID-19 booster shots following their primary series of vaccinations. Just 31.7% of Marin's total population is considered to be up to date.

Since October 2021, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a number of vaccine booster recommendations that varied depending on age and health status. People 65 and older are considered up to date with their boosters if they've received two updated 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccine doses. People 5 through 64 years old require a single updated COVID-19 vaccine to be up to date.

The percentage of Marin residents who are up to date with their boosters appears to be waning. In September, 42.3% of the county's population was considered up to date, nearly 11 percentage points more than today.

At that time, 47.9% of White residents in Marin, 20.2% of Black residents and 20.6% of Latino residents were up to date. Today, 34.4% of the county's White residents, 13.5% of the Black residents and 10.2% of the Latino residents are up to date.

Santora said some of the variability between racial and ethnic groups might reflect the fact that younger residents are less motivated to get vaccinated.

One reason the drop in the number of people getting boosters isn't setting off alarm bells is that current variants appears to cause less severe illness.

"We've seen a significant reduction in hospitalizations and deaths," Santora said. "This particular variant doesn't cause severe disease, except in very vulnerable populations, which is why for many folks over 65, having their fall booster may be adequate."

Santora said that so far the coronavirus seems to be following the pattern of other viruses, becoming more infectious and maximizing its spread by also becoming less virulent.

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has not yet decided whether it will continue its practice of recommending semi-annual or even annual doses of the COVID-19 vaccine when it comes time for a booster in fall. The committee was scheduled to meet to discuss the issue this month but postponed the discussion until June.

Criticism of vaccines, particularly in some social media circles, remains energetic.

"As we enter into another political cycle, it continues to be a thread of conversation," Santora said.

Santora said that while no new information has come to light suggesting the vaccines are inherently dangerous, "unfortunately in the beginning of the pandemic, there was a minimization of the adverse effects from vaccinations" at the national level.

"Anytime you take any treatment, including a vaccination, there is a risk of adverse effects," Santora said. "It's a very, very low percentage of individuals that have an adverse effect, but for the individual that experiences those adverse effects, it's very traumatic."

The Los Angeles Daily News contributed to this report.


(c)2024 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)

Visit The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.