Alaska health officials recommend COVID boosters as cases rise in Europe

Alaska Native Medical Center nurse Rocky Carloni rolls up her sleeve before getting a COVID-19 booster shot. (Photo by Nat Herz/Alaska Public Media)

State health officials are encouraging Alaskans to get their COVID-19 bivalent boosters as case numbers and hospitalizations increase in Europe.

At a public health presentation Wednesday, state epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said an omicron wave in Germany is showing the importance of getting boosted.

“One of the challenges that Germany is facing is that they have really low vaccination coverage rates, especially with the booster,” he said. “That’s one of the things they’re attributing to the high rates of infection and hospitalization.”

Here in Alaska, McLaughlin said, COVID hospitalization numbers are decreasing. But hospital utilization — the percentage of hospital beds being used — has steadily increased in Alaska since the start of the pandemic. That could be due to a number of factors like staff shortages, he said, but it’s an important sign to watch as flu season begins.

Bivalent COVID boosters, which target both the original strain and its omicron variants, have been available to adults for more than a month. The CDC authorized the boosters for children as young as 5 last week.

State physician Dr. Lisa Rabinowitz said uptake for the new booster and the flu shot has been slow.

“The flu vaccine was a little delayed in shipping out nationally, so I think due to that we’ve had a little slower uptake,” she said. “But I’m excited to see some traction on this as we move into the fall.”

She said it’s safe to get the flu shot and the COVID booster at the same time. If you’ve had COVID recently, you’ll have adequate protection against the virus for about three months. But Rabinowitz said it’s also safe to get it as soon as your symptoms have gone away.

“Especially for those individuals that know they’re going to be traveling or around people that are at higher risk for COVID, maybe it makes sense to get vaccinated sooner than waiting that three months,” Rabinowitz said. “But either is a viable option.”

Alaskans can get boosted by visiting vaccines.gov, contacting their primary care provider or local public health clinic, or calling the state’s COVID helpline at 907-646-3322. You can also text your ZIP code to 438829 to find a nearby provider.

Alaska Public Media

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