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SALT LAKE CITY — Fourth doses of COVID-19 vaccine could soon be available for anyone 18 and older in Israel, but don't expect to see an additional booster shot offered in the United States just yet despite the omicron surge still gripping Utah and other parts of the country.
The recommendation Tuesday from a medical advisory panel to the Israeli government that a fourth shot be offered to all adults five months after their third dose or recovery from the virus comes after new findings about the effectiveness of another booster shot for those 60 and older.
An analysis comparing older Israelis who'd received a fourth shot with those who'd gotten a third dose at least four months ago showed the extra shot offered threefold protection against serious illness and twofold protection against getting infected with the omicron variant of the virus, according to a report in The Times of Israel.
Omicron, the most highly transmissible variant yet, is driving a COVID-19 surge in Israel that has yet to peak. Utah is in a similar situation, although cases are seen as being undercounted because state officials have encouraged most people with symptoms to skip overwhelmed testing facilities and simply isolate for five days.
Tuesday, the Utah Department of Health reported 6,600 new cases and 10 additional deaths from the virus. The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is now 9,205 per day, still more than double last winter's previous record, and hospitalizations remain high, at 747.
But the focus in Utah and the United States is still on the first booster shot. It's up to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to decide whether more booster shots are needed in the United States but so far, a fourth dose has been recommended only for the moderately and severely immunocompromised,
That dose is not considered a booster shot, because it's intended to increase the response to the initial vaccination series in someone who is being treated for cancer, has had an organ transplant or has another condition that affects antibody production, rather than enhance protection that may have waned over time.
Both Pfizer and Moderna have said additional booster shots will be needed in the coming months, likely sooner due to omicron. Booster shots, now available to anyone 12 and older, were first authorized for certain groups by the CDC last fall. Utah was among several states that quickly expanded their availability.
"We will be watching closely for CDC recommendations on additional booster doses," state health department spokesman Tom Hudachko said. While there are currently no recommendations about another booster shot for Americans, he said "this may change in the future."
In the meantime, he said the state health department continues "to emphasize the importance of people who are eligible getting their booster doses. All data point to booster doses reducing the likelihood of somebody getting seriously ill or being hospitalized."
Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious diseases physician at Intermountain Healthcare, the region's largest health care provider, said recently a new CDC study involving 10 states including Utah that found a third booster shot had a "significant impact" against omicron didn't address whether a fourth dose will be needed.
"We don't have the answer to that," Stenehjem said. "We do not have enough data here in the U.S. to say what is the effectiveness of boosters in terms of time since boosting. The effect of a booster is likely going to wane just like a two-series is but we don't have data on that in this report. That data will come."
Just about 60% of Utahns are considered fully vaccinated, meaning it's been two weeks or more since they've received the initial vaccination series against the deadly virus — two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson.
That puts Utah squarely in the middle of a ranking of states by the percent of fully vaccinated residents, according to data compiled by The New York Times. The list is topped by Vermont, with 79% of its population fully vaccinated, and Idaho, with 48%, is at the bottom.
When it comes to booster doses, 41.1% of fully vaccinated Utahns — more than 777,000 of the 3.2 million people living in the state — have received a booster shot, according to the state health department. That's the same percentage reported for the U.S. by the CDC.