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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Health officials encouraged people Wednesday to get booster shots and vaccinate, including children, against COVID-19 as the holiday season approaches.

Boosters have been opened up for anyone over the age of 18, and Crestwood Hospital CEO Dr. Pam Hudson said the reason is the pandemic hasn’t waned. Unvaccinated communities have seen outbreaks, she said, and ongoing health research shows the vaccine should be available to anyone who needs it.

About 55 percent of Madison County residents are vaccinated, Hudson said, which is good, but the number needs to be higher.

“It is effective and it is the best way to put the brakes on this pandemic,” Hudson said.

Hudson also noted that pills on the market to treat COVID-19 are a good sign, but they are a treatment and not a vaccine replacement.

“This is a substitute for monoclonal antibody treatment,” she said.

Dr. Roger Smalligan, the Regional Dean at UAB School of Medicine-Huntsville, said they have seen cases where people took the vaccine after feeling sick, and then later tested positive for COVID.

“Unfortunately sometimes, our statistics where you’ve seen that vaccinated people that are in the hospital, some of those are going to be people who got the vaccine late,” Smalligan said. “And we don’t want that. We want you to get vaccinated now so that you have time to build up those antibodies and be protected.”

Smalligan also encouraged people to consider getting children vaccinated, saying they do have children who end up hospitalized with COVID and suffer long-term effects.

“I would really urge families to have their children protected as well,” he said. “And that will really make you more comfortable. You will have more confidence and be able to be more comfortable in your outings together.”