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Smith: Despite falling COVID numbers, the importance of vaccination remains

MORGANTOWN — It’s been some time since Monongalia County Health Department Medical Director Dr. Lee Smith got to deliver some positive news.

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“The most important thing that we’re seeing is that the case rate has dropped. The numbers are going down, fairly precipitously,” he explained during a recent COVID-19 update before the Monongalia County Commission. “Almost in the same slope as that they shot up, we’re seeing them drop.”

As of Thursday morning, the MCHD is aware of 293 active cases in the county. Seventeen days prior, that number was nearly 1,200.

The dramatic decrease in cases, Smith explained, was largely behind the MCHD’s decision late last week to align with shortened CDC guidelines in terms of isolation for individuals testing COVID-positive.

While the numbers of late are trending down, the need for preventative measures — vaccination in particular — remains unchanged, Smith explained.

He pointed to statistics released in early January by Aurora Health, a 26-hospital health care system in Illinois and Milwaukee, for support.

He explained that of 1,500 patients across the system, “93% of hospitalized patients were unvaccinated, 94% of patients in ICU were unvaccinated and of those patients who were on ventilators, it was 98%. I think that it clearly says that vaccines will help prevent serious illness.”

According to Aurora Health, “unvaccinated” means anyone who has yet to receive a booster.

Further, Smith said, the CDC has released data indicating unvaccinated individuals 13 and older are 13 times more likely to test positive for COVID and 68 times more likely to die from the virus.

“I think sometimes people say ‘Show me the studies.’ Well, you don’t just pull them out of your pocket the same day. It takes a little bit of time for this to be substantiated,” he said, noting terms like “vaccinated” and “unvaccinated” have less meaning with the introduction of boosters. “Up-to-date now means fully vaccinated, plus a booster.”

Smith went on to say that the speed at which the COVID virus mutates — omicron went from one known case in the U.S. on Dec. 1 to 95% of the country’s cases on Jan. 1 — and the rate at which antibody and vaccine resistance fades means staying up to date is critical.

He noted Pfizer is seeking emergency use authorization from the FDA of a pediatric vaccine for children under the age of five.

“I think that we continue to advocate very highly for vaccines. I think the proof is clear. We’ll see what the FDA comes out with,” Smith said. “But now, if you could vaccinate really from six months to end of life, then I think that’s going to bring the best opportunity for control, if you’ll let me use that term, of this virus.”

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