December 3, 2021 | NEWS | By Kat Falacienski | Photo by Rikki Held
As the Omicron COVID-19 variant filled headlines and fears, with at least one confirmed case in Colorado discovered on Dec. 2, Colorado College encouraged booster shots for all members of the community.
In an email sent on Nov. 29, the COVID-19 Policy & Implementation Committee said, “All members of the CC community are encouraged to get a COVID-19 booster shot.” The committee also stated that there will be coming details about an on-campus booster clinic.
Heather Horton, CC’s Senior Director for Student Health and Wellbeing, told The Catalyst that the on-campus booster clinic will be held next Saturday, Dec. 11, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m at the Cornerstone Main Space.
“I’m still working with the provider on the other details, but that information will go out to campus either tomorrow or Monday,” Horton wrote in an email on Thursday, Dec. 2.
COVID Response Coordinator Maggie Santos added that the timing was specifically chosen so that students have a Sunday to recover and could be immunized before winter break.
The new variant of SARS-CoV-2 was first detected in southern Africa, adding uncertainty to a pandemic that continues to rage in the U.S. The variant was first recorded in Botswana and quickly spread to surrounding countries. Omicron has spread to Asia and was recently found in California and Colorado.
The World Health Organization has warned that Omicron poses a “very high” risk due to its potential to mutate even further. There are strong suspicions among scientists that Omicron could be more contagious and more vaccine-resistant than other variants, but further research is needed. Pfizer and BioNTech have claimed that their vaccine could be “tweaked” successfully to combat the variant within 100 days.
So far, the U.S. has banned travelers from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, and Malawi. However, such travel bans tend to come too late to result in any more than a modest prevention of disease transmission.
They can also impede the delivery of medical supplies to infected countries, many of which have historically been deprived of COVID-19 vaccines.
Omicron’s recent arrival to the U.S. comes while the nation is still struggling to contain the Delta variant; in fact, more Americans have been reported dead of COVID-19 in 2021 than in 2020. The increase in deaths has been attributed to vaccine hesitancy and the fact that the Delta variant is especially contagious.
Colorado has been hit particularly hard by the Delta variant, which now makes up 100% of all COVID-19 cases in the state. In November, Colorado had the fifth-highest COVID-19 infection rate in the country, with the majority of cases in unvaccinated people under the age of 40.
There are many explanations for the explosion of Delta in Colorado. On July 8 of this year, Gov. Polis lifted many non-vaccine state public health measures, including mask mandates and limitations on indoor gatherings.
Since then, social interaction and mobility have largely returned to pre-pandemic levels. In addition, Colorado’s vaccination rate continually falls short of what is needed to sustain herd immunity: 62% of eligible residents are fully vaccinated.
While the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for children between the ages of five and 11, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will likely not require that K-12 students be vaccinated until the vaccine is fully approved by the FDA. (It remains under emergency use authorization). So far, only about 17% of eligible five to 11-year-olds have been vaccinated in Colorado.
It should be noted, however, that vaccination rates and public health protocol vary by county, and El Paso County is especially vulnerable to COVID-19. About 60.5% of eligible residents are fully vaccinated, and county commissioners have refused to enact a mask mandate. As a result, from Nov. 21 through 26, the COVID-19 positivity rate in El Paso was 11.63%.
Besides human behavior, there is also the issue of waning immunity to the vaccines. A recent study appearing in the Journal of Medical Biochemistryfollowed hundreds of fully vaccinated healthcare workers, and found that within six months following their second vaccine, the workers’ COVID-19 antibody levels had reduced by an average of 57%. A similar study in The Lancetdemonstrated the possibility of waning immunity leading to reinfection.
The authors of both studies agree that their findings provide evidence for the necessity of booster shots, although further study is needed on the exact benefits of boosters. Booster shots are now available for all Colorado adults, and you can mix and match boosters. (For example, if your first two COVID-19 shots were Moderna, you can get a Moderna or Pfizer booster).
To find a vaccination site in Colorado Springs, visit https://www.elpasocountyhealth.org/how-can-i-get-a-vaccine or wait for the CC administration to announce details of the on-campus booster clinic soon.