A look at major COVID-19 developments over the past week

In this file photo, Dr. Jason Laney checks a patient recovering from COVID-19 at Jeff Davis Hospital in Hazlehurst (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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In this file photo, Dr. Jason Laney checks a patient recovering from COVID-19 at Jeff Davis Hospital in Hazlehurst (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

The surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations has started to subside.

The hospitalization rate has dropped by one-third over the past week, while the number of new coronavirus cases has fallen by 16%, according to state health data.

Meanwhile, Gov. Brian Kemp said the state’s stock of monoclonal antibodies — used to treat COVID-19 during the early onset of symptoms — has recently become more limited. Vaccines remain widely available. Federal guidelines have been issued on who can receive coronavirus booster vaccinations. But Kemp and Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state’s top health official, stressed a top priority is getting unvaccinated people their first doses of the vaccine.

Here’s a look at major developments related to COVID-19 over the past week.

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Kemp and Toomey discuss new rules for booster shots

New federal rules allow millions of Americans to get Pfizer booster shots. To be eligible, people must have received the vaccine’s second dose at least six months prior and must have medical issues, or living or working conditions, that put them in the high risk category.

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Dr. Kathleen Toomey and Gov. Brian Kemp give an update on COVID-19 in Georgia at the State Capitol. Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Dr. Kathleen Toomey and Gov. Brian Kemp give an update on COVID-19 in Georgia at the State Capitol.
Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

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Dr. Kathleen Toomey and Gov. Brian Kemp give an update on COVID-19 in Georgia at the State Capitol. Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

The CDC says studies show that the protection offered by COVID-19 vaccinations may wane over time, especially against the highly contagious delta variant.

The federal guidelines allow people over 65 or those who live in long-term care facilities to receive the boosters, along with younger adults with underlying medical conditions or jobs that put them at higher risk to contract the disease.

The underlying conditions cover a wide range of illnesses and conditions including diabetes, cancer treatment, heart disease, obesity or even being overweight. No proof of eligibility for underlying medical conditions or living or working in high-risk settings is required. Those administering the shots will rely on the honor system.

Only those who have received the Pfizer vaccines are now eligible for a third dose, though regulators could soon clear the way for boosters for recipients of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

“This isn’t an emergency,” said Toomey. “You don’t need to run, but walk to get your booster.”

State health officials began administering the Pfizer boosters this week at health department vaccination sites.

Pharmacies, including CVS pharmacy, have also indicated they have an ample supply of the Pfizer vaccine for boosters.

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Keeping focus on the unvaccinated

Dr. Cecil Bennett, a Newnan-based family physician, said he worries too much attention is being focused on boosters at a time when so many people are still unvaccinated.

“You know the most vulnerable group right now? The unvaccinated. And that is where we should spend 99% of our attention, getting them vaccinated,” Bennett said. “We are hearing about children in the ICU and unvaccinated younger people in the hospital. You know who we are not hearing as much about going to the hospital? Seniors, seniors who have been vaccinated. We cannot take our eye off the ball.”

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A promotional sticker at a Clayton County Public Schools COVID-19 vaccination event (Alyssa Pointer/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

A promotional sticker at a Clayton County Public Schools COVID-19 vaccination event  (Alyssa Pointer/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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A promotional sticker at a Clayton County Public Schools COVID-19 vaccination event (Alyssa Pointer/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Just 47% of Georgians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, including 53% of those over age 12.

Toomey agreed that getting people vaccinated against COVID-19 must remain the top priority.

“The most important message of all, the single most important thing we can do as a state, is to get additional people vaccinated for the first time,” she said. “So when you go to get your booster, take a friend, take a family member, take a neighbor who you know was a little hesitant about getting the vaccine.”

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Concerns about a “twindemic”

Some experts worry the possibility of a severe flu season combined with ongoing coronavirus outbreaks could create a “twindemic,” further straining a hospital system already stretched thin.

The last flu season was extremely subdued as concerns about COVID-19 prompted people to isolate, wash their hands frequently, avoid crowds and wear masks. There were no flu-related deaths in Georgia and only a few dozen flu-related hospitalizations in metro Atlanta, according to the state Department of Public Health.

The unusually mild 2020-2021 season likely means natural immunity among Americans is waning, the CDC said. In addition, pandemic safety measures have been relaxed.

Many adults have returned to the office, and children are back in school. People are once again gathering in crowded places such as football stadiums and concert halls. At the same time, fewer people are wearing masks and maintaining social distance.

That has doctors worried that fall and winter could bring a crush of flu patients filing into hospitals at a time when facilities are running low on beds

In Georgia, the flu season usually starts in October and peaks between December and February. It typically ends in early spring, but it can stretch into May. Public health experts are urging people to get a flu vaccine as soon as possible.

Staff writer Ariel Hart contributed to this article.