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Doctors emphasize importance of vaccination, booster shots as El Paso’s Covid cases rise

EL PASO, Texas — A local doctor says the weakening of the coronavirus vaccine over time is causing more breakthrough cases in El Paso County as the hospitalization rate has become one of the highest in the state. 

El Paso County has the highest vaccination rate among the most heavily populated counties in Texas. Below is a comparison of the vaccination rates of the population five and older with at least one dose:

  • El Paso County - 82.65%
  • Travis County - 76.70%
  • Harris County - 70.66%
  • Dallas County - 66.80%

Although El Paso has a high vaccination rate, it has the highest percentage of hospital capacity occupied by Covid-19 patients. According to the state health department, the trauma service area that houses El Paso has 11 percent of its hospital capacity filled with Covid patients. Right now, there are 232 covid-19 hospitalizations and only nine open ICU beds.

"Hospitals are also facing challenges in the staffing which we are having a need for nurses, we are having a need for the other members of the healthcare team that are required to staff a bed," Dr. Hector Ocaranza, the public health authority, explained.

In the past five weeks, city data shows that about 30 percent of all new positive cases are among vaccinated people.

Dr. Edward Michelson, the chairman of the department of emergency medicine at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso, says a decrease in the antibodies among vaccinated individuals is contributing to the spike in cases the Borderland is experiencing.

"If the antibodies drop, the protection from getting infected also drops. This is where the booster shots may help us," Michelson explained.

A team at TTUHSC El Paso is researching the antibodies from the Covid vaccines. Michelson says research subjects in El Paso show an extremely low level of antibodies about eight months after their second dose. After receiving a booster shot, though, individuals showed a staggering increase in antibodies that are sometimes 100 fold, Dr. Michelson says.

“So if you had your second shot in the last 4 to 5 months, you might wait a little bit longer, but I think 6 months or more, the recommendation will most likely be to go ahead and get a booster shot," Michelson recommended.

Although the vaccine does weaken overtime, it is still keeping a lot of people from developing a more severe case of the virus.

This can be seen if you look back one year. On Nov. 17, 2020, the positivity rate sat at 18.93 percent and the number of hospitalizations was at 1,120. Exactly one year later the positivity rate is lower, but still very high, at 13.66 percent, and the number of hospitalizations is incredibly lower at 232. Michelson says 75 percent of the hospitalizations currently are unvaccinated. So although there are more breakthrough cases today, they rarely have to go to the hospital.

“Getting the vaccine reduces your likelihood of ending up in the hospital. It’s not perfect, but it’s a huge improvement," Michelson said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease and Control are expected to soon recommend that every adult get the booster shot. The city of El Paso is focusing on giving booster shots to the elderly, those with an underlying health condition, and those in the service industry. But, if you do want a booster and do not fit that criteria, the city will still give you the shot.

Dylan McKim

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