Beshear urges booster shots, citing data to support his plea, but he won’t say the pandemic’s decline has stalled in Ky.

By Melissa Patrick 
Kentucky Health News

The key message at Gov. Andy Beshear’s weekly Covid-19 news conference was “Go out and get your booster,” because initial vaccinations are beginning to wear off. And he acknowledged that the six-week decline in coronavirus cases may soon be over, just as cold weather is increasing the risk of spread.

“You really need to get your booster because we are seeing hospitalization among vaccinated people going up month after month after month, which suggests waning immunity,” Beshear said. He noted that most Kentuckians are eligible, and said he plans to get his on Thursday during his weekly “Team Kentucky” press conference.

State Department for Public Health graph

Beshear displayed graphs showing that coronavirus cases have increased among Kentuckians who have been fully vaccinated since March, when vaccines first became available. In May, only 5% of cases were among the fully vaccinated, but by October that rate had increased to upwards of 25%.

“The only natural explanation is that the immunity does lessen a little bit over time,” he said. “This means you need to get your booster. And from all the data we’re seeing, we think we can turn this line back around and get it down to where it was in March, even with the Delta variant.”

The governor also noted that coronavirus cases, Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths among people who are fully vaccinated have also increased, indicating waning immunity and supporting the need for boosters. From March 1 to Oct. 27, 84% cases and hospitalizations and 85% of deaths in Kentucky have been among those who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.

State Dept. for Public Health graph, adapted by Ky. Health News

Another reason to get your booster, Beshear said, is that the virus is killing more people between 30 and 49. That age group’s share of deaths rose from 2% before the Delta variant to 13% post-Delta, he said. The state reports that 56% of Kentuckians 25-39 have received at least one dose of a vaccine and 66% of those 40-49 have.

Beshear said the state needs a much higher vaccination rate in Kentuckians who are in their 30s and 40s because “The Delta variant is killing younger and younger people.”

The state reported 48 more Covid-19 deaths since Friday, 26 of them listed on Monday. Eight of the 48 were people between 24 and 45, said Beshear. The state’s pandemic death toll is now 9,814.

A rough plateau: Since Friday, 2,220 new cases of the coronavirus have been reported in Kentucky, with 568 of them Monday. That raised the seven-day average to 1,250, from 1,246 on Sunday. It was the first daily rise in the average since Sept. 28.

Other signs that the decline in the pandemic has hit a plateau: The percentage of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the past seven days is 5.03%, up from 4.98% on Sunday.

Beshear said he would be surprised if the decline of the last six weeks is over, but acknowledged that might be so: “If it’s more than just a daily blip, which it could be, then the question is: Are we moving towards a plateau as opposed to a significant downward slope?”

Actually, the state’s infection rate has been on a rough plateau for about a week. It stands at 22.35 daily cases per 100,000 residents, slightly higher than the recent low of 22.3 on Saturday. Counties with rates more than double the state rate are Russell, 121.2; Green, 105.8; Adair, 90.8; Clinton, 89.5; Jackson, 60.0; Powell, 50.9; Lee, 48.2; Trimble, 47.2; and Lewis, 46.3.

Beshear noted that the state reported more cases Monday than the previous Monday, that the positive-test rate went up for the first time in the last month; and the drop in weekly cases was smaller than in prior weeks.

Hospital numbers, which can be lagging indicators, still continue downward. Hospitals reported 772 Covid-19 patients, down 92 from Friday; 249 in intensive care, down 24; and 138 on mechanical ventilation, down six.

Beshear said Covid-19 hospitalizations have decreased 10% in the last seven days, but 54 of the state’s 96 acute-care hospitals are reporting critical staffing shortages. Eight of the state’s 10 hospital regions are using at least 80% of their intensive care unit beds, with the northern region using the most, at 98.77%.

Masks in schools: As more school districts dropped their mask mandates, Beshear reiterated that it’s too soon for schools to go mask-optional, noting that entire classrooms are unvaccinated because students are too young.

“This is the least vaccinated group in Kentucky,” he said. “The virus is still very much here and until these numbers are better, I think we need to continue at universal masking.” He encouraged schools to stick with that policy for at least another month.

Children 5 to 11 are expected to become eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Tuesday or Wednesday, with final action by federal officials.

Beshear said the state will be ready to provide vaccinations on Wednesday to one-third of 5- to 11-year-olds, and that within the first week of availability will be able to vaccinate half of them. He said they will largely be available in the same places that the adult vaccine is available.

“We are ready as soon as any set of parents are ready,” he said.

Not as many Kentuckians have been vaccinated as first reported. The state’s vaccination numbers were recently adjusted to remove duplicate entries. The revised figures show that 67% of Kentuckians 12 and older, those who are eligible to be vaccinated, have received at least one shot.

Health insurance: Open enrollment for federally subsidized health insurance coverage is now open on Kynect, the state’s health-insurance marketplace, and runs through Jan. 15. Enrollments received through Dec. 15 will qualify for coverage that begins Jan. 1. For Kentuckians who enroll between Dec. 16 and Jan. 15, coverage will start Feb. 1. Enrollment in a commercial plan will remain open on through Jan. 15.

On the site, Kentuckians can compare options, apply for coverage and complete their enrollment all on one platform, even if they qualify for Medicaid, which covers about a third of Kentuckians.

Health Secretary Eric Friedlander encouraged Kentuckians to take the time to compare insurance plans on Kynect to make sure they get a plan that best suits their needs. For example, he said check out the providers to make sure there is one you would like to use and the prescriptions on each plan to make sure yours are covered.

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