Barely a third of those Illinois residents eligible for a second COVID-19 vaccine booster shot have received one.
That’s roughly 2 million people 50 and older who should’ve received a second booster shot and haven’t yet, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention records.
One of the most common excuses doctors are hearing is that patients are waiting until the omicron-specific vaccine is approved by federal regulators, which could happen as early as the middle of next month.
“We have two sayings, ‘don’t wait to vaccinate’ and ‘it’s never too late to vaccinate,'” said Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, Cook County Department of Public Health’s chief operating officer. “We recommend strongly you get your booster when you’re eligible for it, and when a new one comes out customized for the omicron variant, you’re eligible for that as well.”
Public health officials note the majority of those hospitalized from COVID-19 are among the unvaccinated population, and the current vaccine courses are still working well against the omicron variant.
“There is a dramatic increase in hospitalization risk if you are unvaccinated,” said Dr. Arti Barnes, chief medical officer at IDPH. “People who are up to date with their shots are not ending up in the hospital or dying the way the unvaccinated are.”
COVID-19 hospitalizations have declined over the past week, according to Illinois Department of Public Health records. Today, IDPH reported 1,310 patients hospitalized with the respiratory virus, that’s down from 1,434 a week ago. Of those currently hospitalized, 158 are in ICU beds, that’s up from 152 this time last week.
New cases are also declining, according to IDPH figures. Over the past week, 24,297 new cases were reported, while 25,804 new infections were reported the week prior. Since the outset of the pandemic, 3,670,258 COVID-19 infections have been recorded in Illinois.
IDPH officials also recorded 82 more deaths from COVID-19 this week, bringing the state’s death toll from the virus to 34,677.
All of Cook County and the five suburban collar counties are now at medium risk for community spread after spending weeks at high risk, according to CDC data.
Illinois had 42 counties at high risk a week ago, Thursday the CDC listed 33 at that level.
But cases surge in the fall, Barnes warned. She is hopeful this year’s surge will be “gentler.”
“We don’t want people waiting if they’re eligible for the booster now,” Barnes said. “Even a months time might be a little too dangerous, especially those who are immunocompromised or have underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk for complications from an infection.”
About a quarter of Illinois’ COVID-19 deaths that have occurred since the vaccine became available in December 2020 were in fully vaccinated individuals, according to IDPH records. However, 46% of those fully vaccinated deaths were individuals who had underlying medical problems or were immunocomprised.
If approved by federal regulators, as anticipated, anyone 12 and older will be eligible for the omicron-specific vaccines, according to applications submitted by drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna. That approval will likely be followed by a recommendation everyone eligible receive this type of booster, doctors said.
“I think the likelihood of that is very high,” Barnes said.
Public health officials are unsure if such a recommendation would create the same kind of initial run on the vaccine that they’ve experienced when vaccination guidance has changed in the past.
“I don’t know what we’ll see,” Hasbrouck said. “There’s fatigue with the pandemic and there’s fatigue with the vaccine schedule. A lot of folks are confused and burnt out.”
He noted there has always been a contingent of residents who are eager to get inoculated as soon as possible, but there’s also an equal number of those who never will get vaccinated.
“There’s a camp in the middle, that’s actually bigger than the other two, and that’s who we’re trying to speak to,” he said. “We’re trying to address their hesitancies.”
Some of those concerns are often related to side effects reported by friends and families who received booster doses, Hasbrouck acknowledged.
“You can’t predict the side effects you’re going to have based on what happened to other people,” he said. “That’s always going to be very idiosyncratic.”