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Staff video, USA TODAY
Sarasota Memorial Hospital is seeing an increase in the number of COVID-19 patients who are vaccinated, including those sick enough to land in the intensive care unit, prompting public concern and raising questions about the need for booster shots.
Dr. Manuel Gordillo, the hospital’s infectious disease expert, addressed some of those questions in a Facebook post Tuesday, offering assurances about the effectiveness of the vaccine while also touching on the booster shot question.
As of Monday, Sarasota Memorial had 47 vaccinated COVID-19 patients, including seven in the ICU and five on ventilators. At the start of last week the hospital had 28 vaccinated COVID-19 patients, with just one in the ICU on a ventilator.
Currently, 17% of Sarasota Memorial’s COVID-19 patients are vaccinated, up from 10% a week ago.
“Many people ask about the significance of an increasing number of vaccinated people being admitted to the ICU or going on ventilators … and how this relates to vaccine efficacy (protection),” Gordillo wrote Tuesday.
Gordillo looked at all seven vaccinated COVID-19 patients in the ICU Monday and found that six were older than 65 and have more than three other health conditions, or comorbidities, that “raise their risk for more severe disease.” He also noted that three are “severely immunocompromised, issues known to lower vaccine efficacy to a significant degree.”
Gordillo added that, of the seven cases, there were two where COVID “played a role as a contributor in their hospitalization but they both had other major problems that led to ICU admission.”
Gordillo concluded that individuals with these conditions should get a third dose of the vaccine or likely will need a booster shot.
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“People with multiple comorbidities (illnesses) and the immunocompromised are at higher risk of vaccine failure,” Gordillo wrote. “The latter should pursue a third dose, the former will likely need boosters once approved.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending a third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines for immunocompromised individuals, who make up nearly 3% of the U.S. population. They include people who have received an organ transplant and are taking medicine to suppress the immune system, individuals undergoing cancer treatment and individuals with advanced or untreated HIV, among other conditions.
Booster shots are expected to be approved for broader use in September.
“The available data make very clear that protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection begins to decrease over time following the initial doses of vaccination, and in association with the dominance of the delta variant, we are starting to see evidence of reduced protection against mild and moderate disease,” according to a statement put out Aug. 18 by the CDC director and other leading public health professionals. “Based on our latest assessment, the current protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death could diminish in the months ahead, especially among those who are at higher risk or were vaccinated during the earlier phases of the vaccination rollout. For that reason, we conclude that a booster shot will be needed to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability.”
Overall, though, the data indicates that the COVID-19 vaccines are still highly effective at preventing severe illness and death, Gordillo said.
“Vaccines continue to show exceptional efficacy to prevent severe outcomes,” he said.
The average age was 68 among all vaccinated COVID-19 patients at Sarasota Memorial Tuesday, with 26 of the patients younger than 65. The vaccinated patients ranged in age from 27 to 95.
Sarasota Memorial Hospital reported four more COVID-19 deaths Tuesday, bringing the death total to 82 since Aug. 6.
The hospital had 272 COVID-19 patients Tuesday, compared with 277 Monday and a record 291 on Sunday.
Sarasota Memorial’s intensive care unit, which normally has 62 beds, had 114 beds Tuesday with 110 of them filled, including 68 filled with COVID-19 patients.
Before the current wave of infections, the largest number of COVID-19 patients at Sarasota Memorial was 130 on July 22, 2020. The hospital now has more than double that number.
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Hospitals throughout the state and region have been deluged with COVID-19 patients.
Manatee Memorial Hospital in Bradenton had 90 COVID-19 patients Tuesday and Lakewood Ranch Medical Center had 69.
There have been 94 COVID-19 deaths at Manatee Memorial and 49 at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center since June 1.