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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
COVID 19  |  UF

COVID-19 Update: FDA delays booster shot approval as UF Health Shands hospitalizations continue to decrease

Hospitalizations drop 38% despite first full-capacity football game at UF

COVID-19 hospitalizations fell by 38% from Sept. 13 to Monday, said UF Health Shands Hospital CEO Ed Jimenez. Twenty-four of this week’s 91 COVID-19 patients were in the ICU.

However, there were an additional 89 patients not included in the total, he said. Some of these patients don’t have COVID-19 but still have symptoms, leaving them too sick to leave. Others returned to the hospital after getting infected again.

With 180 total COVID-19 related hospitalizations, he said the workload for hospital staff remains high. But fewer patients infectious with COVID-19 leaves room for hope.

“This is good news, because I think we can now see a horizon,” Jimenez said. 

As of Tuesday, 93% of hospitalized patients were unvaccinated in Alachua County.

Decreasing numbers can possibly be attributed to the county’s mask mandate, increasing vaccine rates and people taking precautions, Jimenez said.

Last week, Shands said it would follow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s potential rollout of booster shots if the administration voted to distribute them to everyone this week. But the FDA declined a proposal to distribute follow-up doses Friday. 

However, the FDA unanimously recommended third vaccine doses to those at least  65 and other vulnerable people. UF Health continues to offer booster shots to those groups, Shands Chief Operating Officer Traci d’Auguste said.

Although pediatric hospitalizations are not as high as adult hospitalizations, they remain at risk of COVID-19 as long as children under 12 years old cannot get vaccinated, Jimenez said. Additionally, the Delta variant tends to affect children more severely than the alpha variant.

There were five children in the hospital for COVID-19 Monday, he said. While it is a significant decrease from Shands’ peak of 16 child hospitalizations in August, Jimenez said it’s too early to declare the number a success. 

“I would not be thrilled yet,” Jimenez said. “I’m cautiously optimistic.”

A trial studying the Pfizer vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11 showed the vaccine was safe and evidenced a strong antibody response against infection. 

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“We all believe that vaccination across the board is extraordinarily helpful,” Jimenez said. “So this is very encouraging.”

Due to Shands’ capacity, the hospital hasn’t been able to accept as many transfer patients from neighboring counties as in the past, d’Auguste said. But luckily the influx of outside patients has remained stable, which has helped staff, d’Auguste said.

“We continue to work very hard to try and expand our capacity in order to accommodate patients that certainly need our care here,” d’Auguste said.

While the Delta variant remains the most dominant COVID-19 strain, the World Health Organization added the new mu variant to a list of variants of interest. These are variants that have limited spread but are contributing to an increased share of cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control

Florida has the second most cases of the mu variant in the nation as of Sept. 13, with 308 cases reported. There have been no cases of the new variant identified in Alachua County as of Monday, Paul Myers, administrator for the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County, wrote in an email.

UF is offering COVID-19 testing at the UF Cultural Plaza Parking Garage. UF Health and Alachua County are offering walk-up vaccinations.

Contact J.P. Oprison at Follow him on Twitter @JOprison.

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J.P. Oprison

JP is a fourth-year journalism major with a minor in history. He is currently the health reporter for The Alligator, focusing on how the pandemic is affecting Alachua County and the thousands of students in Gainesville. In his free time, JP likes to exercise at the gym and relax on the beach.

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