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Los Angeles County officials are warning that lagging vaccine rates could undermine progress combating COVID-19 just as cool weather magnifies the danger of the disease.
At a press conference last week, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the rate of new vaccinations is falling and vaccination rates for almost all groups are below the levels necessary to prevent a winter spike in cases.
Ferrer said only residents aged 65-79 had adopted vaccines widely enough.
“It is clear that our vaccination prep progress is stalling and we need to move in a different direction to avoid future surges in cases,” she said.
LA’s case rate even with 58% of the population fully vaccinated, is about where it was last summer and new efforts are needed to reduce the rate of transmission.
“Our collective health is also threatened by these gaps,” Ferrer said. “Which gives plenty of opportunity for high transmission and the emergence of additional variants that may be resistant to our vaccines. Additional surges are likely in the absence of better vaccination coverage.”
Ferrer said the County will pursue targeted vaccination mandates as part of the solution and cited the county’s recent adoption of vaccine requirements for bars, vaccine mandates at schools and a push at the Federal level as examples that will hopefully increase the vaccination rate across the county.
Starting Oct. 7 proof of at least one dose of the vaccine is required to enter bars, nightclubs, wineries, and breweries. Fully vaccinated status will be required on Nov. 4.
Mega events, meaning places that expect 10,000 people or more will require proof of vaccine or negative test results. These are for events with controlled entrances, such as events that require tickets.
Ferrer warned that LA County cannot enter the fall and winter seasons with the current rate of transmission. She said that the vaccine is the best weapon to prevent a big step backwards. She also cautioned for the arrival of new variants as another key point in getting folks vaccinated.
“The only thing I know for sure is if we end up back where we were last year. We’re all in a lot of trouble.” Ferrer said.
She said masking rules will persist as long as cases remain at current levels. Health officials said they will look at relaxing masking once the level of transmission drops significantly.
Although vaccines are proven to help, they are not perfect. To this point 47,276 fully vaccinated people have tested positive, 1,359 fully vaccinated people have been hospitalized, and 199 fully vaccinated people have died due to the coronavirus.
“Our data provides reassurance that these vaccines continue to provide excellent protection for COVID related hospitalizations and deaths, but they are by no means perfect,” Ferrer said. “And because they don’t provide us with 100% protection. We need to continue to layer in other protections, where there’s high risk of transmission and vulnerable residents.”
The FDA recently approved booster shots for citizens over 65 years old and community members with weak immune systems. Booster shots did not get the approval of citizens 16 to 64 years of age.