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Iowa public health director talks COVID vaccines, booster shots

Iowa public health director talks COVID vaccines, booster shots

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DES MOINES — Iowans who have contracted COVID-19 should still get one of the vaccines, the state’s public health director reiterated this week.

Kelly Garcia, interim director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, made the recommendation while fielding questions from older Iowans during a telephonic town hall hosted by the state chapter of AARP.

A woman said she did not get the vaccine, contracted COVID-19 in August and was hospitalized for 10 days. The woman asked Garcia whether she should now get the vaccine.

“The short answer is, ‘Yes,’ you are still eligible to and we want you to,” Garcia said. “You have some natural antibodies in your body from getting COVID. That’s the good news. …

“If you had COVID and then you get the vaccine on top of it, your antibodies are typically higher, and that is wonderful news for your ongoing protection. Because we do know you can get COVID twice. That can happen. That’s why we’re having this whole booster conversation as well.”

Garcia fielded a number of questions about the COVID-19 boosters, which are being rolled out to reinforce the vaccines that many Americans began receiving last winter.

Thus far, only the Pfizer vaccine’s booster has been approved for distribution. Many Iowans who participated in Tuesday’s town hall had questions about when they will be able to get a booster shot.

Garcia said she expects more federal guidance on booster shots in the coming weeks. Meantime, she regularly recommended that Iowans with questions take those questions to their doctor.

“Right now, the (federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has clinical guidance saying, ‘Yes, indeed, at six months we start to see a wane in in those antibody levels,’” Garcia said. “We want to make sure that all Americans are highly protected, and so that booster shot ensures that.”

AARP conducted an informal poll during the call, and of those who responded, 15% said they have already received a booster shot and 70% said they plan to. Just 14% said they want to learn more about the booster shots before making a decision, and a mere 1% said they are not planning to get it.

One woman said she received the vaccine and contracted COVID-19 — although she did not detail in which order — and said her reaction to the vaccine was worse than the illness. This made her skeptical about getting the booster shot, she said.

Garcia said that if she got the vaccine first and then contracted COVID, and did not suffer from any severe effects of the virus, that was a signal the vaccine did its job, by preventing severe illness.

“Those side effects from the shots can be really, really unpleasant,” Garcia said. “But you know, those are temporary. And again, I want us to be focused on the clinical outcomes of COVID, and COVID can have some incredibly poor clinical outcomes. So that temporary status for pain on the injection side and having a fever from the shot is far less significant than hospitalization and death.”

In Iowa, 65% of those eligible to receive the vaccine (12 years and older) are fully vaccinated, according to federal data. That’s in the middle of the pack nationally, according to federal data.

COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths had been increasing in recent months, returning to levels not reached since last winter’s deadly surge. But all of those numbers have started to fall again in recent weeks.

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