Kentucky officials say COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise as the BA.5 variant spreads.
About a third of Kentucky’s counties are in the red on the state’s coronavirus map, indicating high rates of transmission. But Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday the current escalation in cases is not as significant as those caused by previous variants.
“It looks like it’s more of a slow climb,” Beshear said. “The other thing… is even in relation to the climb, it is nowhere near as deadly as it was in the past, though it still is harming and taking lives, and we need to be wary of that.”
Beshear said the state is also experiencing a “legitimate increase” in hospitalizations, after a period of “fairly low” numbers.
There were fewer than 300 Kentuckians hospitalized with COVID-19 at the beginning of June. That’s since jumped to 483, as of Monday.
As with overall case numbers, the uptick in hospitalizations caused by BA.5 is not as sharp as previous spikes, Beshear said. He said the ratio of hospitalizations relative to cases is also lower compared to previous surges.
“And that is because, in my opinion, of vaccinations,” Beshear said. “It is because of the steps that people take to protect themselves. It’s because of possibly some natural immunity, though, I think you’ll hear that reinfection is more possible now than ever before.”
About 57% of Kentuckians are fully vaccinated, and 26% have received a booster shot.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized a fourth vaccine option developed by Novavax. It functions differently than messenger RNA vaccines, like those produced by Pfizer and Moderna.
Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack said the Novavax vaccine could become available in the next few weeks.
“This is more of the traditional, older-school technology, and so now there’s another option for those of you who had any concerns about the mRNA vaccines, or you were waiting for one of the more traditional technologies,” Stack said. “It’s going to take just a little time, like it always does, for the CDC to make their recommendations, and then to get it shipped out.”
Stack said he also expects Kentucky to run out of monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 in the coming weeks. He attributed the shortage to a lack of federal funding.
Funding issues could also impact vaccine availability this fall. Stack said without additional money from Congress, pharmaceutical companies might produce fewer doses and more people may have to pay for vaccinations through insurance or out of pocket.
“And then that means we won’t be able to just tell every citizen and every Kentuckian you can just go and, at no cost to yourself, get a vaccine,” he said.
Stack said people who’ve gotten two doses and at least one booster of a vaccine are 15 times less likely to die from COVID-19.
John Boyle is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. John’s coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by the Caesars Foundation of Floyd County, Community Foundation of Southern Indiana and Samtec, Inc.