Public health officials renew vaccination push as case surge wanes

Public health officials are once again pushing for greater COVID-19 vaccine uptake as the surge in cases brought on by the omicron variant starts to diminish.

Chicago Department of Public Health Director Dr. Allison Arwady said the recent surge would have been even more “catastrophic” had it not been for the vaccine.

“The only reason we're only doing reasonably OK now is because we have a vaccine,” she said during a presentation Tuesday. “If COVID-19, the original version, had shown up like omicron in early 2020, this would have been even more catastrophic than it was.”

She noted that because the omicron variant is so highly transmissible, many fully vaccinated individuals still contracted the virus during the recent surge. However, their outcomes were often much different than the unvaccinated's, she said.

“Almost all of the deaths in this surge are unvaccinated,” Arwady said. “But also, unvaccinated Chicagoans throughout this whole time were at least twice as likely to test positive than those fully vaccinated. COVID vaccinations continue to show good effectiveness against both infection and more importantly against hospitalization and death.”

Illinois Department of Public Health officials Tuesday reported 123 more COVID-19 deaths statewide, as well as 8,665 new cases of the virus.

That brings the state's death toll from COVID-19 to 31,036, while 2,929,636 cases have been diagnosed statewide since the outset of the pandemic nearly two years ago.

IDPH officials also reported 3,805 COVID-19 patients were being treated in Illinois hospitals, 1,378 fewer than a week ago.

Of those hospitalized, 669 were in intensive care, a drop of 238 ICU patients from a week ago.

The drop in cases and hospitalizations comes just as a subvariant of omicron, dubbed “stealth omicron” due to its ability to avoid detection in tests, was identified for the first time in an Illinois sample.

Health officials have not declared this subvariant to show any greater threat than the original variant, though.

The state's seven-day case positivity rate is at 6.8%, down from 7.2% Monday. Case positivity is the percentage of test results that yield a new case of the disease. A seven-day average is used to account for anomalies in the daily reporting of the figures.

IDPH officials also reported 28,563 more doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered statewide. Illinois vaccine providers have now administered 20,548,687 doses since December 2020.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting 66.3% of the state's 12.7 million residents are now fully vaccinated. Of those fully vaccinated, 47.4% have received a booster dose as well.

January saw the second-highest number of COVID-19 deaths recorded in a month during the pandemic, only behind December 2020, and most of those January deaths were among the unvaccinated, IDPH records show.

“Misinformation killed a lot of people in January and will keep killing people until we find a way to help people understand that the vaccine is, by far, the safest way to prevent death from COVID-19,” said Dr. Emily Landon, head of the University of Chicago's infectious disease prevention and control program. “We need to acknowledge that ‘living' with this virus means taking a global approach to vaccination and we need to work together with respect to mitigation efforts.”

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