Delaware awaits CDC guidance before expanding booster eligibility as COVID-19 cases rise
Delaware will wait for the federal government to allow COVID-19 booster shots for anyone who wants one, even as COVID-19 cases are on the rise again and neighboring states move to expand booster shot eligibility.
The state is following federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which recommend that boosters should be given to adults who are either 65 and up; considered at-risk for COVID-19 due to their health, living situation or job; or have received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The Food and Drug Administration is considering expanding Pfizer booster eligibility to all adults as early as this week, and the CDC's advisory committee is scheduled to meet Friday to discuss booster efficacy and pave the way for eligibility expansion.
Until then, though, Delaware has no immediate plans to change its own regulations, Gov. John Carney said Thursday afternoon.
During a Thursday press conference at Walgreens on North Union Street promoting booster shots, Carney said Delaware is "eager" for the federal government to open up boosters to the general adult population.
"I'm a little cautious of getting ahead of the CDC," Carney told reporters when defending the state's decision not to open it up sooner.
"One of the biggest challenges throughout ... the last 20 months is maintaining a level of trust within the public," he added. "I don't want to get ahead of the experts."
Still, the state said that while it primarily is pushing for its older adult population to receive their booster shots, it is also encouraging others to consider it even if they think they may not be at risk.
Living or working around others, including in an office or congregate living setting, or living with someone who is immunocompromised, means you are considered at-risk, said Division of Public Health Director Dr. Karyl Rattay.
"We really want people to interpret this broadly," she said.
COVID cases on the rise in Delaware
About 64% of Delaware residents are fully vaccinated, according to state data. About 83% of Delaware adults have had at least one dose.
While Delaware is joining Pennsylvania in sticking to federal guidelines, other states such as New York, California, Colorado and New Mexico are allowing residents to get booster shots even if they don't qualify under the current federal guidelines.
New Jersey will also likely waive some federal guidelines because demand among the eligible is low, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday.
It comes as cases are starting to climb back up in Delaware as temperatures drop, though hospitalizations and deaths are still on the decline. The seven-day average of positive cases as of Nov. 16 was 318 — a noticeable jump from 243 cases one week before.
While the vaccine is shown to protect against hospitalization and severe illness, the delta variant has prolonged the pandemic as cases surged in the late summer and early fall. It's unclear how this winter will compare with the last, but health officials expect the rise in cases to persist.
When asked if he expects to reimpose restrictions to slow the spread this winter, Carney said, "I hope not."
Data showed that hospitalizations have been steadily declining since the start of October. The state reported 196 hospitalizations on Oct. 16 compared with 155 on Nov. 16, the latest day that data was reported as of Thursday.
Historically during this pandemic, an increase in hospitalization rates has lagged behind an increase in positive case rates.
Carney said people appear to be fatigued with pandemic-era restrictions and that the state has struggled to successfully enforce current mandates such as mask mandates in schools without widespread pushback.
"They're a little bit tired," he said.
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Sarah Gamard covers government and politics for Delaware Online/The News Journal. Reach her at (302) 324-2281 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @SarahGamard.