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CDC study of patients in Utah, beyond shows booster shot helps prevent hospitalization

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Daily Herald | Jan 21, 2022

Courtesy McKay-Dee Hospital

An ICU worker dons protective gear before helping COVID-19 patients at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden.

Getting your COVID-19 booster shot is the best way to stay out of the hospital, according to a new national study that included researchers from Intermountain Healthcare.

The multi-center study, led by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that the three-dose series of mRNA vaccines is highly effective at reducing emergency care visits and hospitalizations for people with both the omicron and delta variants.

“Omicron is a different virus,” said Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious disease physician for IHC. “The protection we have from a two-dose series just isn’t enough to protect against hospitalization and emergency department and urgent care visits. A two-dose vaccine series, especially when that series was given six months prior, is not nearly as effective as someone who has had a boosted vaccine series. You really need to get that third dose to be able to protect yourself from severe disease.”

The study, released Friday morning by the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, included 10 states and more than 200,000 patients. Findings showed booster shots were 80% effective at preventing emergency and urgent care and hospitalizations. Just receiving the first two shots was only 38% effective at preventing severe illness.

“In the time of omicron, we know we can still get symptomatic disease, but the vast majority, if fully vaccinated, is going to do well at home and won’t need to seek care,” Stenehjem said during a press conference Friday. “Even though you might have a milder illness, you can still transmit it to someone else who is much more vulnerable, such as transplant patients, the elderly and the immunocompromised.”

A second study, also published by the CDC, found that between April and Dec. 25, death rates and positive case counts with omicron and delta in 25 states were lower among those who were boosted.

“This is incredibly timely data,” Stenehjem said. “Our cases have never been higher, so if you have received two vaccines and get your booster, it will give you immediate benefit within five to seven days. The benefits from the booster come very, very quickly.”

On Friday, the Utah Department of Health reported 11,601 new cases, 765 hospitalizations (an all time high) and 11 deaths. Stenehjem said over 520 of those hospitalizations are at IHC facilities.

“Hospitalizations continue to rise. This weekend, we’re having to open up 20 new beds at Intermountain Medical and 10 in Riverton,” he said. “Some people might say, ‘Why not just get it now and move on with my life?’ Because it’s not a mild illness for everyone and you need to keep that in mind. There are plenty of people in the ICU and the hospital. It’s not a pleasant illness to go through. You don’t want it if you don’t have to.”

Stenehjem also added there’s only so much medication to go around for treatment. Only one of the three monoclonal antibody treatments is effective in treating omicron. Another medication, Plaxovid, is in short supply.

“That’s because the whole country is going through a surge, so states are saving them for the people who need it the most,” he said. “If you are young and healthy and you have symptoms consistent with COVID, that’s omicron until proven otherwise. If your symptoms are mild, ride it out at home and track your symptoms. If you have severe shortness of breath or severe cough, by all means, come and see us. Older people and those with chronic medical conditions should be tested early in symptom onset.”

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