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As COVID continues to spread locally, Wisconsin health officials push Pfizer COVID-19 booster shots

Department of Health Services

Two weeks after motorcyclists gathered in Tomahawk, Lincoln County says a significant number of number of people who participated in Fall Ride are testing positive for COVID-19.

It’s part of the larger picture in Wisconsin, where COVID spread is at critically high levels in 21 counties.

According to the most recent data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the state is reporting more than 2,000 new COVID cases daily. That’s 1,000 cases higher than a year ago at this time.

Although the number of positive cases across the state has fallen over the past week, the DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases’ Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Ryan Westergaard, says the drop is not enough to statistically show COVID cases in Wisconsin have reached a peak.

Cases seemed to have turned a corner in the southern states that had an earlier Delta surge, but we have not seen that signal in Wisconsin,” he says. “We cannot conclude that we have plateaued or turned the corner.”

Westergaard says one reason for concern is the onset of cold weather, which caused COVID cases to continue rising last year.

He says the best way to keep COVID cases down is to rely on proven techniques like getting the COVID vaccine.

In addition to the initial vaccine series, DHS supports the CDC’s recommendation to provide Pfizer booster shots to certain populations, including anyone older than 65, people who live in long-term care facilities, and people older than 50 with underlying medical conditions if they received the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago.

Westergaard says the initial vaccine series remains highly effective, but in those populations, data show immunity wanes over time.

“Therefore, we can save additional lives and potentially prevent additional hospitalizations by strengthening the immune response in those populations where there has been evidence that the level of protection has waned,” he says.

Younger people with underlying conditions or who work in at-risk jobs can also get the Pfizer booster shot, but Westergaard says it’s not always necessary.

“Individuals should consider their own risks and benefits. If they determine that the booster is right for them then they may get it,” he says. “But it is not a blanket ‘should get it’ as it is for people who are 65 or older.”

He encourages people to talk to their doctor when making that decision.

Westergaard says DHS does not recommend people get the Pfizer booster shot if they initially received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

He notes that includes most people in Wisconsin’s long-term care facilities, who received the Moderna vaccine.

Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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