Week CLXIII: People 65 and older now eligible for second bivalent COVID booster

— Map from the CDC
New York is among the most heavily vaccinated states.

ALBANY COUNTY — The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has supported a second booster vaccine against COVID-19 for people 65 and older and for people who are immunocompromised.

This would be a bivalent vaccine, which contains both the original vaccine strain of the virus and a strain derived from Omicron sublineages. In August, the then-new boosters were made to target BA.4 and BA.5, which are no longer circulating in the United States.

At the same time, the CDC is rescinding authorization for the original monovalent vaccines used in the first mass-vaccination campaigns.

The CDC continues to recommend a single messengerRNA COVID-19 bivalent vaccine dose — made by either Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech — for all Americans aged 6 and older. 

According to an April 22 update from the CDC, “People ages 65 years and older have the option to receive 1 additional bivalent mRNA vaccine dose if it has been at least 4 months after their first bivalent mRNA dose. The option to receive 1 additional bivalent mRNA dose may be informed by the clinical judgement of a healthcare provider, a person’s risk for severe COVID-19 due to the presence of underlying medical conditions and age, and personal preference and circumstances.”

People with compromised immune systems may get more doses as early as two months after their last bivalent shot.

The Food and Drug Administration cleared the way for the CDC recommendation, and the FDA plans in June to decide what schedule people younger than 65 should follow for vaccine boosters.

The FDA expects to base fall vaccines on whatever COVID-19 strains are most prevalent.

Although 98 percent of counties nationwide are now designated by the CDC as having a “low” community level of COVID-19, more than 1,200 deaths weekly are still linked to the virus.

The CDC also reports that just 20 percent of adults nationwide have gotten an Omicron booster shot while 43 percent of people over 65 have done so.

“At this stage of the pandemic, data support simplifying the use of the authorized mRNA bivalent COVID-19 vaccines and the agency believes that this approach will help encourage future vaccination,” said Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, in a release from the FDA.

“Evidence is now available that most of the U.S. population 5 years of age and older has antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, either from vaccination or infection that can serve as a foundation for the protection provided by the bivalent vaccines,” Marks went on. “COVID-19 continues to be a very real risk for many people, and we encourage individuals to consider staying current with vaccination, including with a bivalent COVID-19 vaccine.

“The available data continue to demonstrate that vaccines prevent the most serious outcomes of COVID-19, which are severe illness, hospitalization, and death.”


More jobs

The state’s labor department released figures this week showing that the number of private-sector jobs in New York increased over the month of March by 19,100, or 0.2 percent, to 8,259,700.

The number of private-sector jobs in the United States increased by 0.1 percent in March 2023.

New York state’s private-sector jobs, not seasonally adjusted, increased by 250,200, or 3.2 percent, over the year, which exceeded the 2.8-percent increase in the number of private-sector jobs nationwide.

New York state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased from 4.2 percent in February to 4.1 percent in March 2023. At the same time, the state’s labor force, seasonally adjusted, increased by 13,400. As a result, the labor force participation rate increased from 60.6 percent to 60.7 percent in March 2023.

For the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area, the over-the-year change in total non-farm jobs was 13,400, an increase of 3 percent. While the over-the-year change in total private-sector jobs was 12,400 or 3.5 percent.

In March 2022, the unemployment rate for the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area was 3.2 percent; that decreased to 2.9 percent this March.

For Albany County alone, the March 2023 unemployment rate was 2.8 percent.

Albany had an employed number of 153,500 in March 2022, which grew to 156,100 in March 2023, an increase of 2.6 percent. In the same time, the unemployed went from 5,000 to 4,600, a decrease of 0.5 percent.

Hence, the unemployment rate decreased in Albany 0.4 percent, from 3.2 percent last March to 2.8 percent this past March.

Statewide, only the Dutchess-Putnam area saw a decrease in jobs.

The biggest job gains statewide were in education and health services and in leisure and hospitality. The only sector that saw a loss of jobs was trade, transportation and utilities.


Riders return

For the first time since March 12, 2020, New York City subways carried over 4 million riders on a single day, April 20.

The governor’s office sent out a press release the next day, celebrating the milestone for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

“The MTA is the lifeblood of this city, and New York State has made critical investments in our subways to improve the rider experience,” Governor Kathy Hochul said in the release. “Surpassing four million riders for the first time since the start of the pandemic is a testament to the resiliency of New Yorkers and the importance of supporting the nation's largest transit system.”

At the same time, the release reported, Metro-North Railroad reached a new three-day (Tuesday through Thursday) average ridership COVID-era high of 193,111, or 73.5 percent of the baseline ridership comparison from February 2020. This comes after Metro-North reached record daily pandemic-era ridership on Wednesday, April 19, with 195,086 riders, or 74 percent of the pre-pandemic average.     

The Long Island Rail Road has exceeded 200,000 riders on 16 days since Feb. 27, the date Grand Central Madison opened for full service, a threshold the railroad had only crossed twice during the first 57 days of 2023. During the seven days between April 9 and April 15, the LIRR carried an average of 168,726 daily customers, the best seven-day average since March 2020, the release said.   


Albany County COVID numbers

For the first time ever, the entire state of New York is colored green by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week, meaning that all 62 counties have a “low” community level of COVID-19.

For the last two weeks, four counties in the Finger Lakes region had been labeled “medium”: Yates, Ontario, Seneca, and Wayne counties. But they, too, are now designated as “low.”

It’s the fifth week in a row that Albany County has been so designated.

This follows two months of being labeled “medium,” which followed a month with a “high” designation after just two weeks at “low” preceded by a month of “medium” after 13 weeks of being labeled “high.”

Nationwide, following a positive trend over the last three months, under half of a percent —just 15 counties — are labeled “high.” Just 2 percent of counties are labeled “medium,” down 2.5 percent last week, 5.5 percent two weeks ago, and 9 percent the week before while those labeled “low” make up a whopping 98 percent.

The weekly metrics the CDC used to determine the current “low” level for Albany County are:

— Albany County now has a case rate of about 17 per 100,000 of population, down from 20 last week, 28 two weeks ago, 35 three weeks ago, 30 four weeks ago, 42 five weeks ago, and a steady decrease from 120 thirteen weeks ago;

— For the important COVID hospital admission rate, Albany County has a rate of 4.6 per 100,000, up slightly from 4.4 last week, but down from 6.2 two weeks ago, 5.6 three weeks ago, 9.6 four weeks ago and dramatically down from more than quadruple that, 22.2, thirteen weeks ago; and

— Albany County now has 3.1 percent of its staffed hospital beds filled with COVID patients, up slightly from 2.4 last week and 2.9 two weeks ago, but down from 4.3 three weeks ago, 5.1 four weeks ago, which had hovered near the same mark for about a month, down from the percentages for the previous twelve weeks, which ranged from 6 to 8.

This week, Albany County’s 163rd of dealing with COVID, numbers are continuing in the right direction with fewer new cases documented. The same is true statewide and nationwide.

Albany County’s dashboard, as of Tuesday, April 25, showed a death toll of 635, reporting the death of one more female, bringing the total to 303 while the number of males who have died remained the same at 305.

Also as of April 25, according to Albany County’s COVID dashboard, 11 patients were hospitalized with COVID, the same as last week and the week before, down from 16 three weeks ago, 22 four weeks ago, 26 five weeks ago, 30 six weeks ago and 31 patients the week before, which was down from 39 eight weeks ago, near the same mark for a month but down from 42 twelve weeks ago, 43 thirteen weeks ago, and 46 fourteen weeks ago.

In New York state, according to the health department’s most recent figures, the Omicron variant continued to make up 100 percent of new cases.

The Omicron sublineage XBB.1.5 dominates at 79 percent, down from 87 percent from March 12 to 25, which had been increasing steadily from 39 percent for the twelve weeks prior.

The fastest growing sublineages is XBB, at 19 percent, which had been at 8 percent for the previous two fortnights.

The other sublineages — BA.2, BA.5, BQ.1, and BQ.1.1 — now make up less than 1 percent of new cases.

Nationwide, according to the CDC, from April 16 to 22, the XBB.1.5 sublineage still dominates at 74 percent of new cases. But its percentage declined from 78 last week and 88 percent of new cases for the two previous weeks after steadily rising from 49 percent thirteen weeks ago.

This is followed by XBB.1.16, a newcomer two weeks ago, now at 10 percent; XBB.1.9.1, at 8 percent, up from 5 percent three weeks ago; XBB.1.5.1, still at 2 percent; another newcomer two weeks ago, FD.2, at 2 percent; and XBB at 1 percent.

Meanwhile, in our region, which includes New York, New Jersey, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico, 72 percent of new cases are caused by the XBB.1.5 sublineage of Omicron; the percentage had grown steadily to 99 four weeks ago but then began declining, to 90 two weeks ago and 78 percent of new cases last week.

Also in our region, XBB.1.16 makes up 11 percent of new cases followed by XBB.1.9.1, at 8 percent, which was 3 percent three weeks ago.

Next in our region is XBB.1.9.2 at 4 percent of new cases followed by XBB.1.5.1, which continues at 3 percent. Unlike nationally, XBB follows at 1 percent with FD.2 and the others at less than 1 percent.

Although figures on infection rates are no longer reliable since tracing and tracking systems have been disbanded, the state dashboard shows that cases in Albany County as well as statewide have continued to decline in recent weeks.

Three months ago, rates for both the state and county had jumped after having leveled off in November following two months of climbing.

Albany County, as a seven-day average, now has 3.2 cases per 100,000 of population, up from 2.0 last week and 3.1 two weeks ago, but down from 4.0 three weeks ago, 5.2 four weeks ago, 4.1 five weeks ago, 6.5 six weeks ago and 8.7 seven weeks ago, which has been in a more or less steady decline from 12.4 fifteen weeks ago.

Numbers hovered between 8 and 11 before that, which was a fairly steady decrease from 21.8 cases per 100,000 thirty-two weeks ago.

This compares with 2.6 cases per 100,000 statewide, down from 3.1 last week,  3.5 two weeks ago, 4.4 three weeks ago,  5.1 four weeks ago, and markedly down over the last month-and-a-half in the twenties following a fairly steady decrease from 30.03 per 100,000 of population five months ago.

The lowest rates are in Western New York at 2.1 per 100,000 or population while the highest rate is in the Mid-Hudson region at 3.4.

The numbers for vaccination in Albany County have hardly budged for several months. The state’s dashboard now reports on these two categories:

— People with a primary series, for those who have completed the recommended initial series of a given COVID-19 vaccine product — two doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine; and

— People who are up to date, for those who have completed all COVID-19 vaccinations, including the bivalent booster, as appropriate per age and clinical recommendations.

As of Tuesday, 22.0 percent percent of Albany County residents were up to date on vaccines, the same as last week but a gradual increase from 17.9 nineteen weeks ago, as opposed to the 61.5 percent of eligible residents who had received booster shots, as reported in prior weeks.

At the same time, 76.3 percent of county residents have completed a primary series, nearly the same as the last several months.

This compares with 76.5 percent of New Yorkers statewide completing a vaccination series, and 14.3 percent being up to date with vaccinations, up from 10.6 nineteen weeks ago.

New Yorkers are still being encouraged by the state’s health department to get bivalent COVID-19 vaccine boosters from Pfizer-BioNTech for anyone age 5 or older and from Moderna for those 6 or older.

To schedule an appointment for a booster, New Yorkers are to contact their local pharmacy, county health department, or healthcare provider; visit vaccines.gov; text their ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233 to find nearby locations.

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