January 20, 2022, MORRIS, IL – Even with the increase in breakthrough COVID infections, there isn’t any doubt in Dr. John Bolden’s mind: when it comes to the COVID patients he has seen at Morris Hospital, vaccinated patients are having much better outcomes than unvaccinated. But being boosted or up to date on any additional doses a person is eligible to receive is making the biggest difference of all.
“We’re absolutely seeing a difference between the vaccinated and unvaccinated patients in the hospital,” says Dr. Bolden, infectious disease physician at Morris Hospital. “While we are seeing more vaccinated patients with break through infections than we did earlier in the pandemic, patients who are up to date on their vaccine series or booster are definitely less likely to be hospitalized, in the ICU, or on a ventilator.”
Being “up to date” means a person has received all of the additional COVID vaccine doses that they are eligible to receive. The vaccine schedule is outlined on cdc.gov and varies depending on type of vaccine received, age, and whether a person has a weakened immune system.
As the recent wave continues and possibility of additional variants looms, Dr. Bolden says the need for staying up-to-date on the vaccine only increases. The booster revives neutralizing antibodies as much as 20 to 30 times from before getting boosted. Those who are not up to date face an increasing chance of being infected or even hospitalized with COVID.
“If you got vaccinated 5 to 12 months ago, your neutralizing antibodies are dropping,” says Dr. Bolden. “That means, if you’re exposed to the virus, you could be putting yourself at risk of getting the COVID infection, so a booster is very important.”
Dr. Bolden says individuals who have multiple co-morbidities especially need to keep up with the recommended COVID vaccine schedule, including those who have lung conditions such as COPD, asthma, bronchitis and emphysema; heart conditions such as coronary artery disease or stents; a recent history of cancer; organ transplant patients; immunocompromising conditions; diabetics and those who are considered obese.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, 69.4 percent of the people in Illinois are fully vaccinated and approximately 28.7 percent have received a booster dose. In Grundy County, about 54.4 percent of the county is considered fully vaccinated, but only 11,921 booster doses have been administered. For a population of 50,972, that would represent only 23.4 percent of the county.
“As a community and as a society, we need to get boosted to keep everyone safe,” Dr. Bolden says.
When it comes to the types of vaccines, Dr. Bolden has not seen a significant difference between Moderna and Pfizer, but he has seen more break-through infections in those who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“That’s probably because Johnson & Johnson is only one dose,” Dr. Bolden says. “A person’s neutralizing antibodies were probably not as high with the one-shot vaccine as they were with the two-shot vaccines.”
Whether you are vaccinated or not, Dr. Bolden advises everyone to take greater precautions like masking, social distancing and handwashing, especially until the current wave subsides. He also encourages people to consider upgrading their mask from cloth to the surgical or N95 masks and to try to minimize risks especially when going out in public.
“If you’re unvaccinated or if you’re not up-to-date on the vaccine, you should be even more vigilant,” Dr. Bolden says.