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SALT LAKE CITY — A new study with links to Utah about booster shots and the omicron variant of COVID-19 highlights exactly why Utahns should go and get their booster shots, a Utah expert said Friday.
The study, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Friday, found that people who received a booster shot had an 82% probability of avoiding emergency room visits, while that likelihood dropped to 38% for those who were considered fully vaccinated for several months.
Booster shots were also found to be 90% effective in helping prevent hospitalizations while a two-dose vaccine series given six months prior provided 50-50 odds. Unvaccinated people have no protection, added Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious disease specialist at Intermountain Healthcare, and one of the study's many co-authors.
"If you want to be fully up-to-date on your COVID vaccination, you needed to get a booster dose five months after your second shot," he said. "That booster dose in the setting of omicron is much more protective against urgent care visits and hospitalizations than just that two-dose series.
"Omicron is a different virus," he added. "It's mutated to the point where the protection that we have just isn't enough. ... You really need that third dose, really to increase those neutralization antibodies to be able to protect yourself from really severe disease."
The study was published hours before the Utah Department of Health confirmed 11,601 new cases of COVID-19 in Utah on Friday, as well as 11 new deaths. A vast majority of the new cases is believed to be the omicron variant.
Stenehjem called the new CDC study the first information out of the United States that highlights the importance of booster doses for omicron variant cases. It's a quick analysis of information gathered from 10 states, including Utah, over the past three weeks, that omicron has taken over the majority of cases, compared with data going back to August.
The variant now accounts for 98% of Utah's recent cases, according to state health department sequencing data.
The state health department reports that unvaccinated Utahns are at 2.3 times greater risk of contracting COVID-19 than vaccinated Utahns, but at 5.7 times greater risk of becoming hospitalized and 11.9 times at greater risk of dying from it over the past 28 days.
The health department reports about 1.9 million Utahns are considered fully vaccinated, representing close to 60% of all Utahns. But, only 764,836 Utahns, or about 40% of those fully vaccinated, have received a booster.
At the same time, the omicron surge has toppled all of Utah's data records, including case counts but also, hospitalizations.
It's not a mild illness for everyone. I think that's what we need to keep in mind.
–Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious diseases doctor at Intermountain Healthcare
The state health department reported Friday that 765 Utahns are hospitalized due to COVID-19 — the third-straight day Utah has surpassed its record of current COVID-19 hospitalizations dating back to March 2020.
There are 207 people in Utah currently in intensive care unit beds. Utah's ICUs have been above utilization thresholds for months because hospitals never stopped dealing with the delta variant before the omicron wave hit.
And because the omicron variant is so different, data shows that not only are vaccinated Utahns getting infected, so are people who were previously infected and had built up some natural immunity, Stenehjem explained. He said people with prior infections likely have some layer of protection, but the study was unable to decipher how much.
Data, fortunately, still suggests that omicron isn't as severe as the delta variant. The issue, however, is that's not always the case — as new hospitalizations show.
"It's not a mild illness for everyone," Stenehjem said. "I think that's what we need to keep in mind. There's plenty of people being hospitalized. There's plenty of people that are in the ICU and there's still plenty of people dying from COVID-19. So I think the biggest issue is how are we going to protect our vulnerable population."
The study indicates that vaccines, including and especially the booster shot, are important in helping address that problem.
Meanwhile, Stenehjem said he believes the effectiveness of a booster shot will dissipate eventually and there will likely be more COVID-19 variants that emerge. However, it's still too early to say if more booster shots will be needed in the future.
Friday's COVID-19 numbers
School-aged children accounted for 1,666 of the 11,601 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Utah on Friday, including 647 cases in children between the ages of 5 and 10, 412 cases in 11-13, and 607 cases in children 14-17.
The state's seven-day running average for new positive cases is now 10,818 per day, with the average percent of tests ending up in a positive diagnosis is 43.1% — the third day that Utah has broken a record there, as well.
Utah on Friday also surpassed 30,000 cumulative COVID-19 hospitalizations since the pandemic began. There have been 30,008 hospitalizations related to the coronavirus since March 2020.
The new deaths reported Friday include:
- A Salt Lake County man older than 85, who was not hospitalized at the time of death.
- A Salt Lake County man, 65-84, long-term care facility resident.
- A Salt Lake County woman, 65-84, not hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County woman, 45-64, hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County woman, 25-44, not hospitalized.
- A Sanpete County man, 65-84,not hospitalized.
- A Utah County woman, over 85, not hospitalized.
- A Utah County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A Utah County man, 45-64, hospitalized.
- A Utah County man, over 85, not hospitalized.
- A Washington County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.
There have been 4,030 deaths due to the coronavirus in Utah since the pandemic began.