A new COVID-19 booster vaccine targeted toward the Omicron variant, and its sub-variants, is scheduled to be available to Los Angeles County residents on Wednesday.
The announcement, made by Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer at the L.A. County Department of Public Health’s weekly press briefing on Thursday, came just after the Food and Drug Administration approved the updated booster for emergency use.
The updated vaccine uses mRNA of the original COVID-19 strain, as well as strains from Omicron’s BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants. The updated vaccine aims to offer better protection as some “breakthrough cases” have been documented amongst the vaccinated since the Omicron surge began.
The new booster will be made available from both Pfizer and Moderna, with eligibility being ages 12 and over and 18 and over, respectively. Both only require one shot, at least two months after a person’s last booster shot.
“We’ve already pre-ordered about 170,000 doses and we expect to receive these doses between the 6th and the 9th of September,” said Ferrer. “More than 300 different health care providers across L.A. County are preparing to administer the bivalent booster, starting in mid-September… and as we roll out the bivalent booster vaccine, we remain focused on ensuring there’s good access to the new boosters in the hardest-hit communities.”
Case rates and deaths
Although L.A. County hospitalization rates are somewhat inaccurate, there was enough data in this category — and in case rate data — for the Centers for Disease Control to drop L.A. County into the “low” tier, marking the first time this has happened since Spring.
Cases are now averaging at 2,600 per day, a 16% decrease since last week, and hospital admissions are now at 9 per 100,000 (10 per 100,000 would be considered low).
However, death rates have slightly increased from 13 per day last week to 14 per day this week. In the Health Department’s previous briefings, it attributed the plateauing in death rates as a “lagging indicator,” but this week Ferrer acknowledged the fact that deaths are continuing to plateau and that COVID remains one of the leading causes of deaths in L.A. County.
“As we’ve discussed in these media briefings, COVID-19 has been a leading cause of death here in L.A. County as well — tragically shortening the lives of too many,” said Ferrer. “And while we’ve seen significant declines since the beginning of the pandemic, in the mortality rate associated with COVID — thanks to high vaccination rates and effective therapeutics — COVID… remains a dangerous virus.”
In 2020, the last year in which this data was available, COVID-19 was the No. 1 cause of death in the country, followed by unintentional drug overdose and heart disease. Ferrer also acknowledged that researchers have found that U.S. life expectancy had dropped from 79 years in 2019, to 76 years in 2021.
“This is the first time U.S life expectancy has declined for two consecutive years in a row over the past 100 years.”
The average death rate per 100,000 people from May to July last year was 4.7. This year it was 7.7. Ferrer said the mortality rate is a “threefold increase” from last summer.
Hospitalization numbers inaccurate, misreported
Last week, L.A. County had seen a rise in COVID-related hospitalizations after two weeks of consistent decline. Public Health said they would monitor the metric closely and that it hoped those numbers would continue to decline.
This week, Ferrer said that increase may have been due to misreporting and that those numbers turned out to be inaccurate.
“There have been some past irregularities in the hospital data for some of the recent days,” said Ferrer. “We are working closely with [California Department of Public Health] to resolve this issue and we’ve been updating the hospital data to reflect corrected information as soon as it becomes available.”
Ferrer also noted that Public Health believes “the issues that are related to that small increase may be associated with some misreporting in the admissions data.”
The issue was not elaborated on and was not asked about when Ferrer took questions from the media. No further information about it is available at the time of this publication.