In-Depth: Just 39% of San Diego seniors have gotten COVID-19 boosters so far

Virus Outbreak Booster Shots
Posted at 6:32 PM, Nov 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-11 13:20:00-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Fewer than half of San Diego County’s eligible seniors have gotten a COVID-19 booster dose, mirroring a trend in other large California cities that has concerned some health officials.

About 150,300 seniors received a booster as of November 7. That’s 39.2 percent of the eligible seniors in San Diego County, said county Health and Human Services Agency spokeswoman Sarah Sweeney.

More than 99 percent of San Diego County residents 65 and older have gotten at least one dose.

As of late last month, just 27 percent of eligible seniors had gotten a booster in LA County, according to the LA Times. In San Francisco, just 20 percent of seniors had a booster.

On Wednesday, the state’s top health official, Dr. Mark Ghaly, said there was enough supply for all adults interested in a booster to get one, provided enough time has elapsed since their initial immunization. Adults who got Pfizer or Moderna must wait at least six months for a booster; adults who got Johnson and Johnson should wait two months.

California clinics expected a rapid surge of demand for boosters during the first week of October, shortly after regulators authorized shots for Pfizer recipients.

Demand was expected to be particularly high among seniors who experience the greatest levels of waning immunity. But only 17 percent of the projected 1.1 million seniors turned out that week for an additional dose.

Dr. Eric Topol of Scripps Research said the slow uptake among seniors was surprising.

“The benefit of the third shot is so profound” in individuals over 60, he said. “The lack of awareness? Thinking the pandemic is over when that couldn’t be further from the truth?”

Studies show seniors have the highest rates of breakthrough infections leading to hospitalization or death of any age group. There were 1.8 breakthrough infections leading to hospitalization per 100,000 vaccinated seniors per week during June and July, according to the CDC.

Still, vaccinated seniors without a booster have a lower risk from COVID than unvaccinated adults of any age group.

“People are not terrified anymore if they’ve been fully immunized with those first two doses,” said Dr. Christian Ramers of Family Health Centers of San Diego.

That perception of lower risk might be one reason for the slower uptake, Ramers said. Another might have to do with regulatory timelines.

Pfizer’s booster became available for seniors Sept. 24, but the Moderna and J & J boosters weren’t authorized until late October. Moderna’s booster is a half dose, and some clinics may not have had supplies immediately available, Ramers said.

“We didn’t really receive our Moderna half-doses just until this week, so it’s going to be a little more of a steady trickle” of demand,” he said.

Ramers said 39 percent uptake among seniors actually exceeds the national average of 31 percent. “In the several weeks we’ve had available, 39 percent is really not that bad,” he said.

Health officials are urging seniors to get boosters now, ahead of the holidays, because protection takes a while to ramp up.