DHEC: Booster still recommended though there may be more breakthrough infections with omicron
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Nearly 800,000 boosters and third doses have been administered so far in South Carolina, and that number is expected to rise with another group becoming eligible to receive the additional shot.
On Wednesday, the CDC signed off on recommending fully vaccinated children as young as 12 get boosted, starting five months after receiving their initial doses.
But more vaccinated and boosted people are testing positive as well, with overall cases surging nationwide and in South Carolina because of the highly contagious omicron variant.
However, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said it is important to distinguish between having a breakthrough infection, which may be mild, and what the vaccine is supposed to do.
“Vaccines are designed to keep you out of the hospital, out of the morgue, and even with omicron, vaccines are doing that,” Assistant State Epidemiologist Dr. Jane Kelly said. “The goal was never to prevent the sniffles. The goal was to prevent severe disease.”
The latest DHEC analysis of the effect COVID is having on vaccinated compared to unvaccinated people — starting in mid-November, shortly before omicron began to spike in South Carolina, through mid-December — reveals 71% of reported cases, 64% of hospitalizations, and 74% of deaths were among people who were not fully vaccinated.
Prisma Health said that trend can be seen in its hospitals right now.
“We are quite concerned that 80% of those individuals are unvaccinated,” Prisma Health – Midlands Incident Commander Dr. Steve Shelton said. “Again, let me say that: Of the 438 inpatients we currently have, 80% are unvaccinated. We strongly encourage vaccination.”
As case numbers continue to rise, Kelly said it is still true that people who have been previously infected do have some level of immunity, but that level of protection, and how long it lasts, varies from person to person.
Kelly said studies from before the vast spread of omicron show people can reduce that risk of reinfection in half by getting vaccinated.
“Reinfection with omicron occurs at three times the rate of reinfection with delta,” she said. “So if you had prior infection — let’s say you had an infection back in August. That was probably with delta, when delta was prevalent. That was the main variant circulating. I would not consider you well-prepared to face omicron.”
Since late October, South Carolina has administered more boosters and third doses than first and second doses combined, meaning more people are strengthening their vaccine protection against the virus by getting boosted than the number of people now starting to get that protection at all.
But doctors have been reiterating that the latter, more unvaccinated people getting vaccinated, period, is what will end the pandemic.
“That is concerning,” Kelly said. “We certainly want people to get the booster dose. It is highly effective at preventing, as I said, progression to severe disease. But the fact that we still have a substantial number of people who haven’t even gotten their first dose of vaccine worries us because those people are vulnerable. They are vulnerable, not, again, to just getting a case of COVID-19 but of having severe disease.”
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