WITH the Biden Administration set to end the COVID-19 public health emergency on May 11, county public health agencies in the San Luis Valley and around Colorado remain busy administering vaccinations and helping the public understand what the “end of the public health emergency” means.

Mineral County Public Health Nurse Joni Adelman joined The Valley Pod to talk about it. She also discussed the San Luis Valley vaccination rates and compared them to the state.

A total of 81,050 COVID vaccines have been administered in the Valley. Of residents 65 and older, the vaccination rate is 99 percent. The Valley’s lowest vaccination rate for the COVID vaccine is among children younger than 4, according to Adelman.

Valley Pod: What should the public know about the end of the COVID public health emergency? 

Joni Adelman: It seems like a long time since the pandemic began. And now, as so much of life looks like it did before the pandemic, it’s reasonable to wonder: is it over? Many pandemics eventually become endemic, meaning the infection is still present in a region or population but its behavior is predictable and the numbers of cases and deaths no longer spike. Learning to live with a virus is a key feature of an endemic virus; think flu or even the common cold.

As we have seen with asymptomatic cases of COVID-19, people can unknowingly have the flu and gravely affect vulnerable elderly, children and those who have impaired immune systems, such as cancer patients and people with HIV or pulmonary disease. The more you suppress influenza through vaccination, the less opportunity the virus has to mutate and infect more people. You’ll also have lower viral loads and will shed the virus – and be infectious – for shorter periods of time. 

Valley Pod: What does long COVID look like in a child, and an adult? Does it go away?

Joni Adelman: Patients who are still experiencing symptoms more than 12 weeks after their initial illness may be diagnosed with post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 — also called long COVID or chronic COVID. In some cases, symptoms may go away temporarily before reappearing later.  Long COVID symptoms can include: chronic fatigue, shortness of breath, coughing, chest pain or heart palpitations, headaches and dizziness, difficulty concentrating or thinking (also known as brain fog), muscle aches or pains after physical activity, change in taste or smell, pins-and-needles sensation, stomach pain and diarrhea, depression or anxiety. One in 5 people continue to experience symptoms for weeks or even months after they have shed the COVID-19 virus, according to recent survey data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Long-term manifestations are increasingly recognized in COVID-19 patients, with systemic clinical presentations affecting a wide range of organs and systems.

Valley Pod: Who should get vaccinated?

Joni Adelman: CDC recommends one updated (bivalent) booster dose:

  • For everyone age 5 years and older if it has been at least 2 months since your last dose.

  • For children age 6 months-4 years who completed the Moderna primary series and if it has been at least 2 months since their last dose.

  • There is no booster recommendation for children age 6 months-4 years who got the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine primary series.

Valley Pod: What guidance would you give to parents who are considering having their school-age child vaccinated? 

Joni Adelman: COVID-19 is not a benign disease in children. It has had a significant impact on children’s health. The vaccine helps prevent kids from getting COVID-19 and helps prevent or reduce the spread of COVID-19. Getting vaccinated for COVID-19 can help stop other variants from emerging. Finally, COVID-19 vaccines help protect the community.

Valley Pod: What impact has the Mobile Vaccine Unit had in the SLV community, on people of the Valley and how much longer will our community have this free service?

Joni Adelman: We hope the Mobile Vaccine Unit will visit the Valley through May 11, if funding for it is approved. You can go to https://www.mobilevax.us/san-luis-valley to see where it will be. 

Valley Pod: How is the SLV community disproportionately affected by COVID as compared to other communities?

Joni Adelman: The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that between April 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021, over 140,000 children in the US experienced the death of a parent or grandparent caregiver. The risk of such loss was 1.1 to 4.5 times higher among children of racial and ethnic minorities, compared to Non-Hispanic White children.

We know that in the first two years of the pandemic, COVID was the third leading cause of death for Americans 65 years and older, following heart disease and cancer. In the SLV, about 20 percent of the population is over 65, which increases the disease burden in our region.

Furthermore, an article in the Lancet published May 2022 by Campbell et. all,  found that low insurance coverage is associated with more COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. Approximately 10 percent of the SLV is uninsured and about 42 percent of the Valley is on Medicaid which means that over 50 percent of SLV residents have household income under 260 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.

Valley Pod: Where can people access the schedule for the vaccine bus? Are there other places where people can still go for a free booster? 

Joni Adelman: Check the San Luis Public Health Partnership webpage as well for available vaccine locations. Or better yet, give your local public health nurse a call.

EDITORS NOTE: This story has been corrected to reflect that the Mobile Vaccine Unit will visit the Valley until May 11.