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SALT LAKE CITY — The COVID-19 virus keeps changing and cases are on the rise, but Utah doctors say recent developments in the fight against COVID-19 are positive.
“COVID is continuing to evolve, and it showed us the last three years that it is a dynamic virus that keeps changing,” Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of the U.’s Division of Pediatric Infectious diseases, said Friday as a panel of University of Utah Health experts discussed the new COVID-19 vaccine coming out and the new subvariants they seek to combat.
Three subvariants of omicron are rising, Pavia said, but the newest vaccine has been tested on recently infected people and have been found to be successful in neutralizing the virus. The vaccine is projected to be available next week.
One of the subvariants, eris, has over 30 mutations, which means “it could cause a lot more trouble,” Pavia said. However, Pavia said it has been found to not spread as fast as other variants have, and is also neutralized well by the newest boosters.
Chief Medical Operations Officer Dr. Russell Vinik said in the first week of June, 25 people tested positive for COVID-19 at University of Utah Health facilities. The first week of September, however, saw 200 positive tests, as well as an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations.
The key, Vinik said, is that very few of the hospitalizations are from patients completely up to date on their vaccinations and boosters. “Good news … the vaccines are still effective and we expect this new booster to be even more effective at preventing cases and hospitalizations,” he said.
Kavish Choudhary, chief pharmacy officer at U. Health, said there won’t be mass vaccination clinics, as there have been in the past — but the vaccines will be available at regular pharmacies and physician offices.
Choudhary said the booster will be available for anyone 6 months and older to have. Choudhary encouraged anyone getting an annual flu shot to get the new booster, as well.
Pavia said the newest vaccines rolling out Monday will have the same side effects as past shots, such as sore arms and flu-like symptoms. Pavia emphasized that recent data shows the risk for myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle — which was occurring when vaccines first came out in 2020 — has gone down significantly.
What about herd immunity?
“We would reduce community spread dramatically if we could vaccinate 90% of the population,” Pavia said. “That’s what the models show. That’s not going to happen. But we do think that the more people who get vaccinated, the less the impact we’re going to have of these waves of disease.”
The panel closed with an announcement that an RSV vaccine is also on its way, specifically targeted for newborns and people over 60. There is not an exact estimated date for it to be rolled out, but Pavia said, “We expect it to be here quite soon.”
Doctors are hoping the RSV vaccine will prevent children from contracting or being hospitalized by RSV. Pavia said pregnant women are recommended to get it to protect babies before they are born.