Am I eligible for a 2nd COVID booster shot?

The number of COVID-positive patients at Los Angeles County hospitals showed a miniscule uptick Saturday, increasing by three people to 290, according to the latest state figures.

The number of those patients in intensive care was 44, down from 47 on Friday.

The hospitalization number has come down significantly from over 4,800 in mid-January at the height of the omicron-fueled winter surge, and is generally at its lowest levels since last summer.

The latest numbers come one day after LA County and the state marked another milestone in the pandemic by officially lifting the requirement that attendees at indoor mega-events such as sporting events or concerts show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test.

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It's the latest pandemic-era mandate to be lifted, following the recent scrapping of rules requiring people to wear masks indoors at most locations. Masks are also no longer required at outdoor mega-events or on school campuses.

The Los Angeles City Council agreed this week to drop its requirement that people show proof of vaccination to enter many indoor businesses.

Health officials have noted, however, that private businesses are entitled to enact their own virus-control measures if they desire, such as requiring masks or checking for vaccinations or negative tests.

Mask-wearing, while no longer mandated in most settings, is still strongly recommended by health officials. Masks also remain mandatory in select locations, such as health-care settings, aboard public transit and airplanes and in airports and transit centers.

BA.2 has been driving up infection numbers in nations around the world, most notably Australia and parts of Europe.

COVID-19 hospitalization numbers have plunged to their lowest levels since the early days of the pandemic, offering a much needed break to health care workers and patients alike following the omicron surge.

The number of patients hospitalized with the coronavirus has fallen more than 90% in more than two months, and some hospitals are going days without a single COVID-19 patient in the ICU for the first time since early 2020.

The freed up beds are expected to help U.S. hospitals retain exhausted staff, treat non-COVID-19 patients more quickly and cut down on inflated costs. More family members can visit loved ones. And doctors hope to see a correction to the slide in pediatric visits, yearly checkups and cancer screenings.

Hospitalizations are now at their lowest point since summer 2020, when comprehensive national data first became available. The average number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the last week nationwide dropped to 11,860, the lowest since 2020 and a steep decline from the peak of more than 145,000 set in mid-January. The previous low was 12,041 last June, before the delta variant took hold.

Who's eligible? 

Americans 50 and older can get a second COVID-19 booster if it’s been at least four months since their last vaccination, a chance at extra protection for the most vulnerable in case the coronavirus rebounds.

The FDA has authorized an extra dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine for that age group and for certain younger people with severely weakened immune systems.

That's why anyone 12 or older with certain immunocompromised conditions can now get an additional shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, four months after their last dose. A second booster of the Moderna vaccine can be given to people 18 years of age and older.

This includes people who have undergone solid organ transplants, or who are living with conditions that have a similar level of immunocompromise.

But for people under 60 it's less clear a second booster is necessary.

"I don't think we have the data for younger people, 50 to even 60," says Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco. The study out of Israel didn't include this younger age group.

She points out that other countries are targeting additional boosters for older people. Germany has authorized a fourth shot for people over 70. The U.K. is targeting people over the age of 75 and Sweden is giving fourth shots to people over 80. Gandhi says the U.S. "is jumping the gun" by forging ahead with shots for everyone over 50 without the relevant data.

Where can I get it?

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health vaccination sites will begin offering the second doses to eligible residents at the following locations:

-- Obregon Park in East Los Angeles;

-- Ted Watkins Park in South Los Angeles;

-- Balboa Sports Complex in Encino;

-- Commerce Senior Citizens Center in Commerce;

-- Market Street Center in Santa Clarita;

-- Palmdale Oasis Recreation Center; and

-- Norwalk Arts and Sports Complex

Which one should I get? 

Until now, the FDA had allowed a fourth vaccine dose only for the immune-compromised as young as 12. Vaccines have a harder time revving up severely weak immune systems, and Marks said their protection also tends to wane sooner. Tuesday’s decision allows them another booster, too — a fifth dose. Only the Pfizer vaccine can be used in those as young as 12; Moderna’s is for adults.

What about people who got Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose shot? They already were eligible for one booster of any kind. Of the 1.3 million who got a second J&J shot, the CDC said now they may choose a third dose — either Moderna or Pfizer. For the more than 4 million who got Moderna or Pfizer as their second shot, the CDC says an additional booster is only necessary if they meet the newest criteria — a severely weakened immune system or are 50 or older.

When should I get it?

There is mounting evidence of waning vaccine protection against serious illness from COVID-19 in older and immunocompromised people, who are at least four to six months past their first booster.

Evidence of waning immunity comes from a recent CDC analysis of COVID-19 emergency room visits and hospitalizations visits during the omicron-predominant period. Two months after a third dose, people were 91% protected against hospitalization. But by four months, that protection dropped down to about 78%.

"The ‘when’ is a really difficult part. Ideally we would time booster doses right before surges but we don’t always know when that’s going to be," said Dr. William Moss, a vaccine expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Plus, a longer interval between shots helps the immune system mount a stronger, more cross-reactive defense.

"If you get a booster too close together, it’s not doing any harm — you’re just not going to get much benefit from it," said Wherry.

The newest booster expansion may not be the last: Next week, the government will hold a public meeting to debate if everyone eventually needs a fourth dose, possibly in the fall, of the original vaccine or an updated shot.

Even if higher-risk Americans get boosted now, Marks said they may need yet another dose in the fall if regulators decide to tweak the vaccine.

For that effort, studies in people — of omicron-targeted shots alone or in combination with the original vaccine — are underway. The National Institutes of Health recently tested monkeys and found "no significant advantage" to using a booster that targets just omicron.

What if I've already had COVID? 

Have you had a recent COVID-19 infection? 

If you've had three shots and you've had an omicron infection sometime between December and now, "I think it's reasonable to wait." Wachter says. He says a recent infection likely puts a person in a similar immunologic state as a second booster.

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The Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this report.