Virologist: Booster shots needed as omicron spreads in Utah

Dec 21, 2021, 6:38 PM | Updated: 8:38 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – As the omicron variant spreads, Utahns should quickly get their COVID-19 booster shots or initial doses of the vaccine to boost their protection against the virus, according to a researcher with the University of Utah.

“Omicron is here and it’s rising in frequency rapidly,” said Stephen Goldstein, PhD, postdoctoral researcher and virologist at the university’s medical school.

Goldstein said testing shows that about 30% of new cases in Utah are probable for the omicron variant, compared to about 73% nationally.

“We should brace ourselves, there are going to be a lot of breakthrough infections,” Goldstein said. “But the more people who are vaccinated and the more people who are boosted, the less severe those infections are going to be and the fewer deaths we’ll see during the coming omicron wave.”

He said Utah could reach that national level in just a few days.

“I’m concerned because our delta wave is just starting to come down in Utah over the last couple of weeks,” Goldstein said. “The hospitals are still pretty full, and so even a fairly modest rise in hospitalizations from omicron has the potential to swamp our system again.”

Goldstein said there is a significant benefit to getting a booster shot, especially ahead of potential gatherings around the holidays and heading into January.

“Going and getting a booster right now before Christmas is definitely a really, really good idea for protecting yourself during what is likely to be extremely rapid transmission of omicron in Utah in January,” Goldstein said.

Goldstein said those who are fully vaccinated with a booster don’t need to be overly concerned about getting severe disease. For those getting their first dose, he encourages them to start the vaccination series as soon as possible because it will start to provide some protection.

“The protection is going to be more limited than people who have had two or three doses, but it’s absolutely better than being immune naïve when you encounter this virus,” Goldstein said. “And the truth is that a very large percentage of us are going to be exposed to this virus over the next two months, so any degree of immunity you can acquire before that exposure happens is a benefit.”

In addition to getting a vaccine booster, Goldstein also recommends rapid testing before a family gathering and masking indoors, especially around vulnerable people. He urged people to stay home if they are sick.

Goldstein said he is worried about those who haven’t received a booster, the unvaccinated and those who have never been exposed to the virus from a previous infection.

“I think that population is in for a difficult couple of months, and there’s the potential for a high rate of hospitalization in that population,” he said. “We’re all hoping that omicron is milder in people who are immune naïve, but we really just don’t know yet.”

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Virologist: Booster shots needed as omicron spreads in Utah