Anna Lujan holds pictures of herself and her father, Epimenio Morales, at the county's 2021 tribute to people who died of COVID-19. Photo by Noe Magaña.
Anna Lujan holds pictures of herself and her father, Epimenio Morales, at the county's 2021 tribute to people who died of COVID-19. Photo by Noe Magaña.

San Benito County epidemiologist Mallory Schmidt this month said 74.1% of eligible adults age 65 and up have received at least one booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine in San Benito County, and 39.5% of them have received two booster shots.

Nonetheless, the risk of severe illness from COVID-19 increases with age and older adults are at the highest risk, according to San Benito County Public Health Services pharmacist Mary White.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that nationwide more than 81% of COVID deaths occur in people over 65 years of age.

According to Public Health Services, those numbers are 15 points lower in the county for residents 60 years or older. Adults 60-69 years old have the highest death rate for COVID at 25%, followed by those who are 80-89 years old at 23%, and those who are 70-79 years old at 18%. There are 100 reported COVID-19-related deaths in the county.

California Department of Aging Director Susan DeMarois said at a recent Ethnic Media Services press briefing that “From the outset and still to this day, the oldest adults have been hardest hit—70% of all COVID deaths in California are people 65 and older.”

Epimenio Morales died of a COVID-related heart attack in July 2020, about six months before the first vaccines were approved for emergency use. The then 81-year-old had been in and out of the hospital before the vaccines were readily available. Morales’ daughter Anna Lujan said her father knew he had COVID-19 when he began to feel sick and the only thing doctors could do for him at that time was give him antibodies.

Although DeMarois said today’s booster shots are proving to be more effective than the original vaccination doses, the increased booster immunity wanes six months after vaccination.

Schmidt says San Benito County follows vaccine implementation guidance from the CDC and California Department of Public Health, which is to recommend first and second booster doses, but not third or fourth booster doses.

The decreased immunity is more pronounced among the immunocompromised, particularly older adults who had stem cell or organ transplants or have HIV, AIDS, lymphoma or a combination of chronic illnesses.

According to California All, the state’s website for tracking COVID, during the week of June 20-26, unvaccinated people were 5.5 times more likely to get COVID than people who received booster shots. The unvaccinated were seven times more likely to be hospitalized than those who had booster shots. The unvaccinated were also 10 times more likely to die than those who had booster shots.

The Food and Drug Administration this month approved both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations for children aged six months through 17 years.

More vaccines that were under FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) only are expected to be approved for more age groups, and more specific vaccines are being developed to target virus variants when they emerge.

Remdesivir is the first anti-viral drug against Covid-19 to receive an EUA from the FDA. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases conducted the Adaptive COVID-19 Treatment Trial (ACTT-1) and reported on October 2020 in the New England Journal of Medicine that patients who received Remdesivir recovered faster than patients who received placebo. It is available from the FDA.

Pfizer’s Paxlovid antiviral pill for treating COVID-19 is relatively new and data on its efficacy continues to be gathered. According to the World Health Organization, Paxlovid benefits mostly high-risk patients, 12 years and older, with underlying health conditions. The WHO endorsed Paxlovid in April this year.

Paxlovid was granted an EUA by the Food and Drug Administration in November 2021. The FDA allows it to be prescribed to eligible patients within five days of a positive result for COVID. Two medications (nirmatrelvir and ritonavir) are taken orally for five days. Paxlovid is free and various studies show it to be effective against the omicron variant. 

Paxlovid may be prescribed for COVID-19 patients who smoke, are overweight, have diabetes, hypertension, or kidney disease, according to Pfizer’s website.

Pfizer recommends that for Paxlovid to work, those who take it would have to temporarily stop taking cholesterol-lowering medication such as Atorvastatin. 

Some side effects have been reported from studies Pfizer collected, like elevated blood pressure, diarrhea, muscle aches and an impaired sense of taste.

According to pharmacist White, Paxlovid is available in San Benito with a prescription through pharmacies, emergency hospitals and Optum test-to-treat locations, a one-stop site where patients who test positive for COVID can immediately get the appropriate treatment if they are eligible.

Regular COVID-19 vaccines are widely available through Public Health Services, pharmacies and from healthcare providers all over San Benito County. These include first and second booster doses.

There are also off-site COVID-19 vaccination clinics in San Juan Bautista and Tres Pinos.

Schmidt says Public Health Services “is not presently planning on implementing a COVID-19 mask mandate” despite the virus’ threat to high-risk older adults. 


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Harvey Barkin is a returning writer who contributed to BenitoLink in 2015. He was editor-in-chief at FilAm Star in San Francisco, a freelance reporter for San Jose Mercury News and various publications....