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Make Getting COVID Booster Your New Year’s Resolution

Although COVID-19 ruled our lives at the beginning of 2022 with mask mandates and understandable apprehensions about social gatherings, the year ends with our CDC encouraging the public to wear masks indoors in counties classified as MEDIUM and HIGH levels, especially for individuals of high risk.  As it pertains to the Greater Cincinnati Area, only Dearborn County, IN. is at the LOW level of COVID-19.  Hamilton County and all other abutting counties in both Ohio and Kentucky are at a MEDIUM level of COVID-19. Over the last two weeks, nationwide, Covid hospitalizations are up 4.2%; daily ICU admissions are up 9%, and deaths remain level.  Nevertheless, we are still losing around 400 Americans a day.  The USA COVID death toll for 2022 was in the range of 250,000, representing a significant proportion of the 1.1 million Americans who have died of this disease. On Tuesday, December 27, 2022, we passed the documented 100,000,000 USA case count. Estimates are that twice that number of our fellow citizens have become infected by this virus. The discrepancy in numbers exists due to the extensive home testing that is available in our country. These test results are not recorded in the official tally.

We continue to be vexed by the ongoing mutation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The Omicron variant has predominated this year. The more the virus proliferates, the more it mutates. The XBB subvariant of Omicron represents a dominant strain in the northeastern USA.  It even has two subvariants. The one designated as XBB.1.5 is responsible for 40.5% of the infections across the nation. This subvariant is touted to be among the strains with the “largest immune evasion” and as being a “most profoundly resistant variant”.  Fortunately, deaths have not been shown to increase due to this variant, at least not yet.

Since COVID-19 vaccinations came online in late 2020, it has been clear that deaths and serious illness could be prevented by this technology.  As millions upon millions of Americans have been vaccinated our country is in a situation where the majority of Americans have completed their primary vaccination series. In fact, 79% of American adults have completed their primary vaccination series.

During 2022 the share of COVID-19 deaths among those who had been vaccinated increased from 4 in 10 to the level of 6 in 10.  Vaccination skeptics erroneously interpret these statistics to mean that the vaccines are causing people to die or that vaccinations don’t work.  There are several factors in play that clarify these statistics. First, a rising share of the population has been vaccinated so even a level number of deaths would represent a higher percentage in the group that has been vaccinated. Secondly, there is no doubt that diminishing (waning) immunity occurs not only after vaccination, but after active infection, thus the need for up-to-date boosters. Unfortunately, Americans are getting boosted at a lower rate than primary vaccination. The bivalent booster has been received by only 14% of adults, including astonishingly, only 31% of adults aged 65 and older. CDC data shows that 95% of COVID deaths in 2022 were over 50 years old.  Those who are not keeping up with boosters are dying in higher numbers, thus creating a higher percentage of deaths among the vaccinated, statistically. The vaccines and boosters are not perfect, but the incidence of severe illness and death is many times lower in those taking advantage of updated boosters. CDC data shows that the bivalent booster reduces the COVID death rate of people ages 12 and older by FIFTEEN times compared to the unvaccinated!

We are entering the fourth year of this pandemic.  Although the flu and RSV rates have decreased compared to the premature spikes of several weeks ago, we are likely to be again faced with the “Tripledemic”, which includes COVID-19, before winter’s end.  Two of America’s largest cities, New York City and Los Angeles, have encouraged mask-wearing while indoors. We continue to see more establishments in our area encouraging us to “mask up” on entry. The benefits of vaccination and boosting are clear.  A 2023 resolution to get up to date with your COVID-19 vaccination status and masking when appropriate, are promises to yourself that you can easily keep. Please do so!

Clyde E. Henderson, MD
Cincinnati Medical Association