Health officials talk up COVID boosters for everybody ahead of federal guidance – San Francisco Chronicle

Health officials in California are starting to promote the idea of virtually everyone getting a COVID-19 booster shot before the holidays — marking a subtle but important shift in messaging even before federal agencies have recommended the policy.

The strongest signal came during a Santa Clara County briefing on Wednesday, when officials strongly urged residents to get shots in advance of a potential winter surge fueled by family gatherings, increased travel and colder weather that drives people indoors.

“Our top line message is we really encourage everyone to get out and get their booster shot,” said Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody. “Pretty much everybody in our population is eligible.”

San Francisco Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax pushed a similar message Wednesday, “strongly encouraging” anyone eligible for a booster to get one soon.

“If you’re eligible for a booster, get a booster for the holiday season,” he said. “It’s the best way to protect yourself, your family, the community.”

Their comments — which haven’t yet been matched in bluntness by other Bay Area counties — came the same day California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said during a public appearance alongside Gov. Gavin Newsom that anyone who wants a booster should “absolutely” get one.

The US. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not made such sweeping recommendations. The agency has advised boosters for people 65 and older and those who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and allowed boosters for those 18 and over with underlying health conditions, or those whose jobs expose them to greater risk of transmission.

People are eligible for a booster if it has been at least six months since they got the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or two months since they got the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. This excludes kids 15 and younger, since it can’t have been six months yet since they got their second shot.

Pfizer on Tuesday announced that it has applied for federal authorization for booster shots for everyone 18 and older.

While the remarks from Santa Clara County’s Cody are not an official recommendation going beyond the CDC’s guidance, they do convey a stronger endorsement of boosters for nearly everyone by not parsing eligibility by age, underlying health or job.

Health officials have been urgently advising those 65 and older to get a booster because they’re at higher risk of being hospitalized with a severe infection if they don’t get boosted. But whether everyone else should also get boosters has been a point of confusion for many.

Cody sought to clarify and went a step further, emphasizing that almost everyone falls into one of those categories, and encouraged them all to get a booster.

“We want to simplify the message and simply say: The holidays are coming, our case rates are flat to increasing, people are going to be gathering and there’s a tool (that is) widely available that we can all use to increase protection, and that’s a booster shot,” Cody said. “So we really encourage just about everybody, because just about everybody is eligible, to get a booster shot.”

“Nobody will be turned away who wants a booster,” said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, the county’s vaccine officer.

Catherine Ho is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: cho@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @Cat_Ho

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