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County Pushes Boosters as Cases and Hospitalizations Drop

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By Jorge Casuso

January 23, 2023 -- For the first time since November, Los Angeles County returned to the CDC's Low Community level last week, but Health officials continue to push questionable boosters to fight the latest coronavirus variants.

The 7-day average case rate dropped to 71 new cases per 100,000 people, while new COVID-19 hospital admissions dropped to 9.5 per 100,000, according to County Health data released Friday.

With a few exceptions -- such as healthcare and congregate care settings -- that means "masking for many people at many indoor sites is an individual preference," County officials said.

While the latest COVID variants are far milder and less fatal than previous strains, Health officials are urging County residents to get the updated bivalent boosters.

"The bivalent booster, widely available in Los Angeles County since September, is formulated to provide increased protection against the COVID-19 Omicron variant and its sublineages," Health officials said.

While the booster are available at more than 1,000 sites across the County, just 22 percent of those eligible have followed the County's recommendation, according to County data.

A similar scenario is playing our across the country after the Biden administration purchased 171 million doses of the bivalent booster at a cost of $4.9 billion.

A number of leading experts and studies have questioned the effectiveness of the boosters, which received rapid approval from the FDA and CDC despite little data to indicate they were effective.

Less than two weeks after the CDC recommended the bivalent booster for everyone aged 5 and older in October, a major study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found the boosters added no protection against the new variants.

Another major study published in the same issue of the journal found that the boosters "failed to promote higher antibody levels or a better immune response than the original COVID-19 vaccines," according to an article in the U.S. News and World Report.

In a perspective piece published in the same journal, vaccine expert Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee, questioned recommending the boosters.

“The experience of the past year has taught us that chasing these Omicron variants with a bivalent vaccine is a losing game,” Offit wrote.

According to the Kaiser Policy Foundation (KPF), the bivalent booster doses created by Pfizer and Moderna amount to "the most expensive price per dose paid by the government."

The U.S. government paid an average of $30.48 for each of the 105 million doses purchased from Pfizer and $26.36 for each of the 66 million doses purchased from Moderna, according to KPF.

County Health officials remained cautious when announcing the recent decrease in the number of cases and hospitalizations and continued to recommend indoor masking and boosters for the most vulnerable.

“Moving into Low Community level is significant and reflects reduced risk," said Health Director Barbara Ferrer, "but it doesn’t mean no risk and certainly for those who are more vulnerable, risk remains significant.

"Low Community level is not a promise, and it doesn’t signal the end of the pandemic -- we will have to wait to see how metrics continue to change over the coming weeks," she said.

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