CASPER — A wider swath of Wyomingites is now eligible for Pfizer COVID-19 booster shots after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorized the additional inoculations.
The Wyoming Department of Health has broken eligibility into those who “should” get the additional shot, and those who “may,” based on their personal risk or environment.
Those who should get a booster include residents 65 years and older, long-term care residents and adults over 50 years with certain chronic conditions.
Those who may get the extra dose are those over 18 years old with certain chronic conditions and those who are more likely to be exposed to the virus based on their employer or living situation.
Eligible residents should seek boosters at least six months after receiving their second shot.
“While we continue to emphasize the importance of COVID-19 vaccines for those people who are not yet vaccinated, these booster doses are intended to help provide continued strong protection for those who are most likely to experience severe illness or exposure to the virus,” State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said in a statement Friday.
Roughly 3,200 Wyomingites have already received a booster dose.
The CDC decision came unilaterally from that agency’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, despite an advisory panel recommending against it. That panel does support booster shots for the elderly and those with chronic illnesses but pushed back on expanding eligibility to those in high-exposure professions like health care and education.
The World Health Organization has also urged the U.S. to hold off on approving booster shots until a larger proportion of the world has access to initial doses.
“This was a scientific close call. In that situation, it was my call to make,” Walensky said during a White House briefing Friday.
The expansion comes as transmission is surging nationwide, with the vast majority of the nation experiencing the highest degree of virus transmission over the last week, according to the CDC.
Wyoming public schools have been mired in quarantines since the academic year began in late August. Hundreds of students and staff have been quarantined because of exposure, though no state agency is tracking K-12 quarantines so it is difficult to provide an exact figure. The health department is tracking positive cases within the public school system using self-reported information from virus test results.
Between Sept. 3 and Sept. 17, 547 cases were reported among K-12 students, and 78 among staff, according to the department.
COVID-19 hospitalizations through September have mirrored figures seen in early November and late December, hovering on average around 200 patients statewide per day. There were 205 people hospitalized statewide Friday.
For perspective, the state’s largest hospitals have just over 200 beds. Both facilities have been more than 25% occupied with virus patients for much of September.
At the height of the pandemic in late November, 247 people were being treated for the virus in Wyoming hospitals.
The increase in patients and the overall surge of infections across Wyoming have kept many hospitals in a critical staffing shortage for most of the month. Ten hospitals reported such a shortage Friday, and 12 reported anticipating a shortage within the coming week.
Breakthrough cases (infections that occur in fully vaccinated residents) are relatively rare both in Wyoming and nationwide.
More than 97% of new infections among residents 12 years and older between May 1 and September 8 were among residents not fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Put another way, of the more than 18,600 confirmed and probable cases reported in that time frame, just over 430 were breakthrough infections.
Fewer than 4% of residents 12 years and older who were hospitalized in that time frame were among the fully vaccinated. Seven of the 130 reported deaths in that time frame were among those fully inoculated, according to data provided by the Wyoming Department of Health.
The severity of virus transmission is calculated by the number of cases per 100,000 residents. The Wyoming Department of Health uses a 14- day window to calculate that figure, while the CDC uses a 7-day increment.
Based on Wyoming metrics, all but four counties are experiencing high or very high transmission. The CDC puts every Wyoming county at the highest level of transmission.
Wyoming has the lowest vaccination rate in the nation at just over 37%, according to state data. The CDC puts that figure slightly higher at 41%, which would put Wyoming just ahead of West Virginia’s rate of 40%.
There is a lag in the state’s reporting of vaccine doses. As of Thursday, just under 252,500 Wyomingites had received at least one vaccine dose.