More people in the Philadelphia suburbs got booster shots in the weeks before Christmas than during prior weeks of the booster rollout, a trend that officials hope continues as omicron and delta drive cases to record levels across the region.
About 1 in 3 people who are fully vaccinated — with two Pfizer or Moderna doses or one Johnson & Johnson dose — in Pennsylvania or New Jersey have gotten boosters. That’s in line with the numbers nationwide. Across the United States, about 32% of those fully vaccinated have received a booster dose.
But since millions have yet to start or complete their vaccinations, the boosted account for an even smaller portion of the total population. Overall, fewer than 1 in 5 Pennsylvanians has the best protection available against the virus. Across the river, about 23% of all New Jerseyans have received a booster shot. That includes children younger than 5 who aren’t yet eligible to be vaccinated at all.
The Pennsylvania suburbs were averaging about 7,000 people getting boosted per day in the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, according to an Inquirer analysis of state data.
“Omicron has been a real driving factor,” said Lisa O’Mahony, Delaware County’s medical adviser, along with the holidays, travel, and university requirements for the spring semester.
Across the commonwealth, the booster uptake has been steady since November, when all adults 18 and older became eligible for an additional dose if enough time had passed since their last shots. In recent weeks, an average of 25,000 to 30,000 booster doses have been given each day across the commonwealth. Philadelphia has administered more than 210,000 boosters.
Full vaccination plus a booster shot greatly decreases one’s risk of getting seriously ill with the extremely transmissible omicron variant, which can evade some vaccine protection, and national experts have been promoting the additional doses in light of this record-setting surge. However, many fully vaccinated people have yet to get their next shot, the immunity from which takes about two weeks to go into effect.
Officials have said recently that people aren’t getting boosted fast enough, with public health leaders in Pennsylvania and New Jersey urging people not to delay the third shot.
“Quite frankly, with what we know now about the omicron variant, if it is time for your booster, get it now,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said last week. “Plain and simple.”
Officials from all of Philadelphia’s collar counties say they have seen steady demand for booster shots for a variety of reasons, including concern about omicron. Younger people, in particular, are coming in as more colleges are requiring students to be boosted before returning to campus for the spring semester.
“Reports of the omicron surge definitely got people in the door but wasn’t the only driver,” said Bucks County spokesperson Eric Nagy. “We saw people coming in to get boosted because they wanted to protect their families ahead of the holidays.”
A higher uptake of boosters in the suburbs, which also have some of the highest initial vaccination rates in the state, may help the region weather the weeks to come and keep people out of already stressed hospitals.
“Certainly, being vaccinated and boosted is going to really protect that whole population. They are unlikely to require an ER visit [or] hospitalization,” said Delaware County’s O’Mahony. “I think we’re going to have less people on ventilators, less people dying because of that.”
Other mitigation measures, such as mask-wearing, can also help cut down on transmission. Officials urged renewed vigilance.
“In light of the latest data with immunization, it is strongly recommended that those who have not yet been vaccinated consider doing so,” said Richard Lorraine, the Montgomery County Health Department’s medical director, “and those who are eligible for a booster should proceed.”
Staff writer Justine McDaniel contributed to this article.