Vaccinated make up nearly 39% of omicron deaths in Utah

May 13, 2022, 10:10 PM | Updated: 11:19 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Since the availability of the vaccine, those without a shot have made up the greatest portion of people who have died from COVID. That hasn’t changed. But since the start of the omicron variant, the percentage of vaccinated people who are dying has gone up significantly.

The Utah Department of Health reports that since the start of the “omicron period” on December 21, 2021, 844 people have tragically lost their lives to COVID.

Of those people, nearly 39% were vaccinated. A significant increase compared to the 19% of deaths fully vaccinated individuals made up before omicron.

“Certainly, there was a higher risk of people getting infected with omicron and going to the hospital with omicron,” said Dr. Leisha Nolan, the state epidemiologist. “We want to be truthful that the vaccine is not perfect. There are some people that, even if they do the right thing, can get a bad infection.”

Nolan says that while the percentage of vaccinated people going to the hospital and dying from COVID is up this year, “I do think it’s still really important to point out that the vaccine has worked well.”

In fact, Nolan says they found that those who haven’t had a shot were 3.6 times more likely to die from an omicron infection than those who were fully vaccinated. And the unvaccinated were 15 times more likely to die than those with a booster shot.

“Certainly, it’s not what we would want. We want it to be 1,000 times, right? Like we want the vaccine to be as strong as possible,” she said. “But it is still quite good, and even during omicron, we saw that.”

Nolan says our bodies need to be reminded how to fight off an infection and that’s where a booster shot helps.

“I think right now we’re still trying to understand how long people can be protected and how long their bodies remember.”

For the last couple of months, we’ve had a bit of a break from COVID, Nolan noted. The last six weeks, cases have been low. But she said they’re keeping an eye on an increase in infections and hospitalizations.

She expects cases will continue to rise in the coming weeks. The health department recommends those older than 50 and people who are immunocompromised receive a second booster shot.

But Nolan said the risk is not high for healthy people who have received the vaccine. She said she wants people to still be able to enjoy themselves but to take reasonable precautions to not get sick, like wearing a mask in crowded spaces.

“We’re going to have to accept this virus is going to be with us for quite a while,” Nolan said. “Hopefully the vaccines are still going to have good protection so it can be more of a nuisance and a difficulty in our life, [rather] than a total life-changing thing like it was the first year and a half, two years.”

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Vaccinated make up nearly 39% of omicron deaths in Utah