CLEVELAND — As we head into the two busiest weeks of the holiday season, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) encouraged Ohioans again to get vaccinated and boosted against the coronavirus as doctors anticipate a rise in prevalence of the omicron variant, which ODH Medical Director Bruce Vanderhoff called “highly contagious."
“It's simply not too late to start your vaccine series or to get your booster shot if that's needed in either case," Vanderhoff said during Thursday’s briefing. "Please roll up your sleeves, maybe again, and strengthen your protection."
Ohio reached an important milestone in the fight against the coronavirus this week, marking the one-year anniversary of the arrival of the first doses of the lifesaving COVID-19 vaccine in Ohio. More than 62% of Ohioans ages five and up have received their first dose of the vaccine.
“This is simply tremendous progress, but we know that our work isn't finished. We need more Ohioans to choose to get vaccinated to gain protection from this deadly virus and help stop the spread,” Vanderhoff said.
New data from the Ohio Department of Health revealed more than 10,000 new positive COVID-19 cases were reported int he state Thursday, the highest since January 2021.
"Simply put, we're in a very serious situation," Vanderhoff added. "Our number of patients in the ICU is almost as bad as it has ever been throughout the entire pandemic."
In case you missed the briefing, you can rewatch it in the media player below:
COVID-19 vaccines are not the only ones that have a booster. There are others. Here’s why:
The booster, which is defined as an additional dose after the original primary series of a vaccine, optimizes the vaccine's immunity effectiveness against the disease and prolongs its durability, health officials said.
Dr. Steven Gordon, an infectious disease specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, said anyone with kids remembers infants received a series of shots before 18 months, and then they were brought back four years later.
“If we look at adults, probably our most common booster, I would say, is our tetanus shot, right? Every 10 years. Other respiratory viruses, influenza, maybe technically not a booster, because as you know, that formulation changes every year in anticipation of the circulating strains,” he said.
High level of hospitalizations
The surge in hospitalizations is being driven by the delta variant and unvaccinated patients.
“Here in Northeast Ohio and our Cleveland Clinic health care systems, we now have the highest census inpatient COVID that we've ever had,” said Gordon. “This goes back to last December, including, as you [Vanderhoff] mentioned, the highest intensive care, about 20% of so."
At the Cleveland Clinic, Gordon said about 33% to 44% of the regular nursing floor beds are occupied by patients with COVID-19. In the ICU, up to 50% of beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients.
Gordon said he “didn’t want to put coal in people's stocking” but unvaccinated patients with COVID-19 are at their highest levels for the health system since the start of the pandemic.
Gordon anticipates omicron is circulating, but the level to which it's contributing to the surge in hospitalizations is unclear.
“We are preparing for a potential respiratory viral — what we call a tidal wave," Gordon said. "We talk about staff, supply chain and we talk about space. Right now, if we were to assess, I think staff is really the thing that's keeping us up at night."
Early signs indicate the booster helps your body reach peak protection, even against omicron.
"The research is showing that those who recently received a booster are demonstrating strong levels of protection against the omicron variant," Vanderhoff said.
How many omicron cases are there?
A small number of cases are showing up in various geographies in the state, including nearby Tuscarawas County. According to the ODH dashboard, the delta variant accounted for 99.5% of cases while omicron made up just 0.5% of cases from Nov. 21 through Dec. 4.
“While the arrival of Omicron in Ohio is noteworthy, we must not lose sight of the fact that the delta variant continues to drive cases and hospitalizations very high. As of yesterday [Dec. 10], there were 4,422 patients in the hospital with COVID-19, a high that matches what we experienced in January of 2021 during last winter’s surge,” said Vanderhoff. “The hospitalizations in this Delta surge are largely being driven by unvaccinated Ohioans. Severe illness with COVID-19 is largely preventable thanks to vaccines.”
Vanderhoff said it’s important to look at the experience of other countries where there are more omicron cases. The doubling time at the rate at which this version of the virus, the omicron variant, has expanded or spread has been very rapid. Some have talked about doubling times of as short as two days, Vanderhoff said.
“I think we have to make the assumption that omicron is on the scene, that we are going to see more and more of omicron in our detections, and that it is going to drive more and more cases of COVID 19,” Vanderhoff said.
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