Gov. Andy Beshear signed an executive order Wednesday that dramatically expands the eligibility criteria for people to receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster.
The order allows any resident over the age of 18 to get a booster regardless of whether they have underlying medical conditions or where they work. Previous guidelines limited eligibility to people with certain health issues, high-risk jobs or people living in long-term care facilities.
In a video message, Beshear said it was important residents have the highest possible level of immunity as they travel and gather with friends and family during the holidays.
“We are moving into the amazing holiday season with Thanksgiving and Christmas and other gatherings, which just last year proved that it can potentially be deadly,” Beshear said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends boosters for people who received their second dose of a two-shot vaccine more than six months ago. Anyone who received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine can get a booster after two months.
Beshear said he decided to expand eligibility because the state’s number of daily COVID-19 infections has plateaued, not declined, since mid-October. Kentucky reports roughly 1,000 new infections each day. Dozens of Kentucky counties remain in the red zone, indicating a high rate of coronavirus spread.
More than two-thirds of hospital beds in Kentucky are currently full, and roughly 85% of ICU beds are in use.
Dr. Jason Smith, chief medical officer for U of L Health, said the immunity granted by the COVID-19 vaccine will eventually wane for most people. As the virus continues to spread, people will need boosters to regain maximum protection, Smith said.
“Very few vaccines that we have are actually one-and-done, like measles and a few others,” he said. “Those are the rare exceptions to how vaccines work in general.”
In Louisville, the coronavirus surged during August and September and began declining in early October, but the numbers still haven’t gotten down to the low levels seen over the summer. Louisville recorded 1,400 new cases last week.
Smith said he expects to see another COVID-19 surge later this year, but that could be mitigated if large numbers of people get their booster shot.
“That will really help to try and curb any other large influxes of patients, which is what we’re really worried about,” he said. “That’s really been the problem from the get-go, that the number of people coming into the hospital can be overwhelming.”
Smith said roughly 96% of COVID-19 patients at U of L Hospital downtown are not vaccinated.