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Intermountain COVID-19 update addresses booster shot, new variant

Intermountain Medical Center in Murray. (PHOTO: KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY — Intermountain medical officials warn that Utah could face a long winter as cases of COVID-19 keep rising and as flu season gets ever closer.

At its Community COVID Update meeting on Friday, Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Brandon Webb said this year’s flu season remains unpredictable. That’s because mask and social distancing requirements have eased up and Utahns aren’t practicing the same level of hygiene as they were last year.

“The last thing we can afford is to have significant numbers of patients who are ill with influenza and the high volumes of Covid,” Webb said.

Webb noted that last year the state saw historically low rates of RSV, influenza, and other severe respiratory viruses.

An ongoing concern for health officials across the state is the number of people requiring intensive care for COVID-19.  On Friday, the Utah Department of Health said that 587 Utahns were hospitalized for COVID-19.  Of those cases, 226 were in intensive care units on Friday.

Of those with COVID-19 in Intermountain intensive care units, Webb said more than 90% are unvaccinated.

New COVID-19 variant on the horizon

Intermountain is keeping an eye on a new variant of COVID-19 called R-1. It was first identified in a long-term health care facility.

“We don’t know a lot about it yet,” Webb said. “It’s now been sequenced and we understand what some of the mutations are in that variant.”

“Each of these variants as they emerge require both sequencing and understanding of what mutations they have … at this point, we can’t say whether R-1 is more efficient in terms of transmission, and that’s key.”

Booster shots against COVID-19

This week, the CDC and the FDA came to an agreement on who should receive a third shot, or booster, of the COVID-19 vaccine. Those people include anybody over the age of 65 or those who are at high risk of severe disease.

“We’re pleased,” Dr. Webb said, “that they’ve come to a consensus.

“The recommendations that have now been finalized are that individuals who are at higher risk of having COVID or at higher risk of not responding to the vaccination should have a third dose as a booster.”

“Now for those who are generally healthy, who don’t have high risk, and who’ve been fully vaccinated, a third dose booster may not be necessary right now,” said Dr. Webb.

Simone Seikaly contributed

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