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The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Monday that children age 12 to 15 will now be eligible to receive a booster shot of the Pfizer COVID vaccine.  The Pfizer vaccine is the only one authorized for use in people under the age of 18.    At the same time, the agency reduced the amount of time those 12 and over have to wait for a booster shot from six months to five months since completing their initial two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines and authorized a third primary dose for certain children 12-15 whose immune systems are severely compromised.

The FDA said in a statement that new data compiled over the months of administering COVID vaccines show that the vaccines are safe and especially effective at preventing serious cases, hospitalization, or death and that booster shots are very important in in combating the highly-contageous omicron variant, which is spreading rapidly around the world.  "With the current wave of the omicron variant, it's critical that we continue to take effective, life saving preventive measures such as primary vaccination and boosters, mask wearing, and social distancing in order to effectively fight COVID-19," said Janet Woodcock, MD, acting commissioner of the FDA.

In Moore County and the Texas Panhandle, increasing cases of COVID and influenza are continuing strain the healthcare system, according to Dr. Carmen Purl, Moore County Public Health Authority.  "Most clinics have been overrun during the holidays with long wait times and shortages of medications at the pharmacies," she said.  As of January 10, there were 164 active cases in Moore County, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.  The number of active cases is an estimate based on the number of both confirmed and probable cases. As for hospitals, she said they too had been overrun with serious cases and that the hospitals in Amarillo are full and unable to take patients who for whatever reason need a higher level of care than what is available in small, rural hospitals.  "Transfers are impossible even to hospitals 500 miles away," she added.  The hospitalization rate in Trauma Service Area A, which includes all of Moore County, was 22.04 percent of capacity on January 8, the second highest in the state and above the 15 percent that Governor Greg Abbot used last year as a trigger for increased COVID restrictions.     

 There have been 94 deaths from COVID in Moore County.  The last one took place on December 28.  Because the state waits until a death certificate has been issued, there is a lag time between the time a death occurs and when it is reported.

Purl said treatment for COVID is still limited.  Monoclonal antibody infusion therapy, available in Amarillo, has been effective at preventing COVID cases from becoming serious in some patients, but only one of the medications, sotrovimab,  has been effective against the omicron variant.  With 97 percent of cases in Texas now from omicron, supplies of sotrovimab have become in short supply.  Governor Greg Abbot recently made an urgent request for more from the federal government, which is in charge of allocating the drug.  Two new antiviral drugs that Purl says show promise in treating COVID patients have recently been approved.  She said a limited number of pharmacies in Potter and Randal counties have received some doses of the drug, but she expects that supplies will continue to be tight for some time.  There are strict guidelines for who receives the drugs.

As reported in the Jan1-2 edition of the News-Press, the CDC changed the guidelines for people isolated after having tested positive for COVID or unvaccinated people quarantined after having been exposed to someone with the disease.  The new guidelines reduce the isolation/quarantine time from 10 days to five, provided they do not have symptoms or any symptoms they did have are gone.  They should wear a mask around people for an additional five days once they resume normal activities.  Exposed people who cannot quarantine should wear a mask for 10 days.  The CDC also changed the guidance for fully vaccinated people who are exposed to say that they should wear a mask around people for 10 days.  Before omicron, fully vaccinated people who were exposed did not have to do any thing.  If a person develops symptoms, they should begin a period of five days in isolation and not leave until the symptoms are gone.

The CDC defines exposure as being within six feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more during a 24 hour period.  Fully vaccinated means that someone has had the initial doses within six months for Moderna and Pfizer and two months for Johnson and Johnson.  To remain fully vaccinated after that time, the person should have had a booster shot.

According to Purl, "The Public Health Authority considers every business in Moore County an essential business.  Exposed employees who are not fully immunized are able to work during their quarantine as long as they wear an appropriate mask.  If employees develop symptoms, they need to go home immediately and begin five full days of isolation.  Fully immunized employees will not have a mask mandate.  If an employer does not want quarantined employees in the workplace, that is their right to decide."

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