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COVID-19 case counts climb across Purchase Area as health officials await new boosters


Western Kentucky health departments, pharmacies and hospitals are preparing to distribute a new COVID-19 vaccine booster as they deal with an uptick in case numbers.

Health departments, pharmacies and hospitals are preparing to distribute the newest vaccine booster, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control last week. This “updated booster,” as the CDC refers to it, is bivalent, meaning it’s designed to target both the original COVID-19 strain and Omicron’s BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants.

Graves County Health Department director Riley Willett is urging people to get vaccinated and keep up with boosters as they’re approved for distribution, saying it’s still the best preventative measure to take for COVID-19.

“To get vaccinated and stay up to date on your vaccine is absolutely something that everyone needs to do. And some people don't feel like they want to get vaccinated,” Willett said. “And that's okay, that's part of their right and what they can do, but we still try our best to tell them why they should.”

Kent Koster leads the Purchase District Health Department, which covers 5 far western Kentucky counties, including Ballard, Carlisle, Fulton, Hickman and McCracken.

“We put in our preorder a while back for doses of both the Pfizer and the Moderna bivalent Omicron boosters that contain the spike proteins for BA.4 and BA.5, and we have been told that we should be getting those sometime this week,” Koster said.

Pfizer’s “updated booster” is approved for people ages 12 and up, and Moderna’s has been authorized for people over 18.

The latest data from regional health departments shows well over 400 active COVID-19 cases in the eight-county Purchase Area, but some health officials think the actual number could be far greater.

Koster says McCracken’s active case count recently increased by two-thirds.

“We're still in the red, which is based on the number of cases, but the community level is also based on the number of hospitalizations and the utilization of hospital beds. It's hard to really track. It's hard to verify the community level data to know why you're in one color and not another,” Koster said. “For the past several weeks, as the highly contagious Omicron variants have moved through the United States and through Kentucky, [the case count’s] increased … but I think we all know that the number of cases that are actually out there are anywhere from three to 10 times greater than what's reported.”

The latest PDHD report – issued Sept. 1 – said there were 200 active cases in McCracken, 21 in Carlisle, 14 in Hickman, nine in Fulton and eight in Ballard. A Marshall County Health Department release that same day said there were 88 active cases in that county. In Graves County, recent health department data indicates at least 113 active cases from the week leading up to Sept. 1. The Calloway County Health Department has not released recent case data on its social media page or via press release.

Willett said people are conscious of the looming threat of COVID-19 but that it’s become normalized.

“I think for the most part people are aware that it's here and doesn't look like it's going anywhere, unfortunately. I do think that they've learned the proper way to prevent themselves from getting it and who really needs to be a little bit more careful than others,” she said. “People are just learning how to live with it now unfortunately. It's just a part of life.”

People seeking these new boosters should have already completed their primary vaccination series and be at least two months out from their last dose of any COVID vaccine, according to the CDC. Agency advisors also say if you’ve recently had COVID, you should consider waiting three months after testing negative before getting an “updated booster.”

Koster and Willett say their departments have not yet received their requested shipments of booster shots, but they expect their department to begin administering doses in the coming days. Pharmacy chains, like Walgreens and CVS, started offering the new booster last week in some locations and have continued to make vaccination appointments via their respective websites.

A native of western Kentucky, Operle earned his bachelor's degree in integrated strategic communications from the University of Kentucky in 2014. Operle spent five years working for Paxton Media/The Paducah Sun as a reporter and editor. In addition to his work in the news industry, Operle is a passionate movie lover and concertgoer.
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