Santa Clara Co. health officer urges residents to get new COVID booster before holiday season

Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine vials setup for vaccinating children ages 5-11 at Katherine R. Smith Elementary School in San Jose, Calif., on Nov. 4, 2021. (Harika Maddala/ Bay City News)

Santa Clara County's top health official urged residents Monday to get an updated COVID-19 booster vaccine if they are eligible to do so as the holiday season approaches.

According to Health Officer and Public Health Director Dr. Sara Cody, just 11 percent of Santa Clara County residents have received the newest booster vaccine, which protects against the original COVID strain as well as two subvariants of the omicron variant.

Federal officials expanded eligibility last week for the new booster to children ages 5-11, making everyone age 5 and up eligible if it has been at least two months since their last vaccine dose.

"Now that just about everyone is eligible, I want to address a question head on, and that question is 'do I really need it?'," Cody said Monday during a briefing at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. "To cut to the conclusion, yes you do. You do need your bivalent booster, and especially if you're 50 years or older."

Cody acknowledged that the slow uptake of the new booster may be due in part to fatigue around the pandemic, but argued that the risk of a serious COVID infection or developing long COVID can be easily mitigated by getting vaccinated. 

The vaccine will also help protect others during the winter holidays, she argued, when large groups of people will gather indoors in close proximity. 

"People are fatigued from managing the pandemic and that's completely understandable," she said. "But what I want to emphasize is that this needs to be a habit that we get into of incorporating these COVID protections into our lives."

Cody also reiterated a point she made earlier in October, that while the county's case count is at a nadir compared to where it was in the spring and early summer, the amount of virus particles circulating in the county's sewersheds and, by extension, the risk of the virus spreading remains elevated.

Countywide, uptake of the new booster is higher among older age groups, but Cody said the county continues to work with local schools and community groups to urge entire families to get the booster when eligible. 

"Some members of your family are going to find having COVID an inconvenience and some members of your family are going to find having COVID very serious and a risk of death," she said. "But everyone can benefit from a bivalent booster."

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As of Monday, 87.4 percent of all county residents have completed their initial vaccination series. Among booster-eligible residents aged 5 and up, 69 percent have received at least one booster dose.

COVID vaccines are available to everyone ages 6 months and up. Santa Clara County is now accepting appointments for the COVID bivalent vaccine for children ages 5 through 11 at its mass vaccination clinics and other local clinics.