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OU Chief COVID Officer emphasizes importance of booster shots for those eligible, warns of breakthrough cases

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Dale Bratzler

OU Chief COVID Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler speaks during livestream, Sept. 15. 

OU Chief COVID Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler discussed booster shot availability and “troubling trends” across the country related to the treatment of healthcare workers in a Wednesday livestream.

According to a weekly epidemiology report from the Oklahoma State Department of Health, 9,447 breakthrough COVID-19 cases have been reported across the state since Sept. 20. 1,832,002 Oklahomans have been fully vaccinated with doses of Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson. 

Bratzler said despite breakthrough cases, COVID-19 vaccines remain effective in preventing severe complications. He encouraged younger, fully vaccinated people to wait on receiving their booster shots.

“I don't think it's going to be that long before (the) FDA will act and review the data on both Moderna boosters and Johnson & Johnson boosters, and we’ll have firm recommendations for the dose, the interval and getting those boosters,” Bratzler said.

The FDA announced last week that it would grant emergency use authorization for Pfizer booster shots to individuals who are 65 and older, at high risk of severe disease and whose jobs put them at risk of infection. This follows the FDA’s Sept. 17 announcement recommending COVID-19 booster shots to be administered to people 65 and older, healthcare workers, teachers and people who are immunocompromised or have high-risk conditions.  

Bratzler strongly recommended older individuals receive booster shots, if they are able.

“The risk of death with a breakthrough infection is greatest in the elderly,” Bratzler said. “That's why I've been such a strong proponent of getting booster doses into the elderly, because they’re (at the) greatest risk of the complications if they get reinfected, even though they’re fully vaccinated.”

Fully vaccinated individuals can resume their “normal lives,” but Bratzler said they should remain cautious of breakthrough cases and receive a booster dose if they are “considered vulnerable.” He said the spread of COVID-19 through vaccinated people is possible but less likely than if they were unvaccinated.

Bratzler also addressed “troubling trends” in the treatment of healthcare workers nationwide. 

He cited a report in Missouri, where panic buttons and tracking have been issued for nurses to ensure security from “disgruntled patients or family members.” In Idaho, healthcare workers are told to not wear identifiers in public following threats from people with ill family members.

“The analogy I use here is ‘are we going to start attacking our cancer doctors because the patient dies when they're being treated for chemotherapy?’ We all do the best we can with the data that we have,” Bratzler said. “(It) is just completely inappropriate (and shows a) lack of civility.” 

Bratzler said he believes Oklahoma is past the delta variant surge amid a downward trend in COVID-19 cases with vaccinations trending up. According to the New York Times dashboard for Oklahoma, cases and hospitalizations have been down 20 percent in the last 14 days. 

“(In) some of the states around us, you’re starting to see counties that are starting to fall down into the moderate levels of transmission of COVID-19,” Bratzler said. “I actually expect that we’ll start to see some Oklahoma counties that drop into that moderate level of transmission in the near future.”

Moderate transmission is 20 to 50 cases per 100,000 people within 14 days or between 5 and 8 percent positivity rate, according to the CDC. The average daily cases per 100,000 people in Kansas and Texas are below 50 as of Sept. 27.

Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb recently said the delta variant will likely “run its course by Thanksgiving,” resulting in the final surge of COVID-19 in the U.S. Bratzler said he hopes this is a correct assumption.

“I don’t know how he can make that prediction. Part of it is delta spreading through so many people so fast, particularly unvaccinated people, that they may have some natural immunity now, but we’ll have to wait and see,” Bratzler said. “Just recognize that a variant that comes from another country, particularly if it's resistant to the antibodies that we have from a vaccine or a prior delta infection or something else, it is possible we can see another wave.”

Kaly Phan is a journalism sophomore and news reporter at The Daily.

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