SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Intermountain Healthcare doctors continue urging vaccinations against COVID-19 amid the discovery of the new Omicron variant on Friday.
“Vaccinations continue to be one of the best defenses against communicable diseases, whether that be childhood diseases such as measles or mumps, which are fairly rare these days, or more common diseases such as influenza or COVID variants, including the newly identified Omicron variant,” says Intermountain.
“The only way we’re really going to control the emergence of variants is to decrease the number of infections,” says Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at University of Utah Health and director of epidemiology at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital. “Until we have vaccinated a large proportion of people everywhere, there is a risk the virus will continue to evolve and be with us.”
As the health officials discovered the first case of Omicron in the U.S., on Wednesday, doctors are concerned there may be a new surge in infections and death rates as the holidays near.
What are the chances of other variants popping up?
“Very high,” says Pavia. “This virus mutates and it has shown that it’s really flexible. It is evolving. It’s evolving to become a better pathogen to be better at infecting us and spreading.”
Scientists are currently studying the variant’s presence in Utah.
“We can beat the virus,” says Dr. Kelly Oakeson, chief scientist at Next-Generation Sequencing & Bioinformatics at the Utah Public Health Laboratory. “We can overcome it, but if it’s just spreading unchecked, the more chance for it to just evade our immune system, or invade our vaccinations, and that’s scary to me.”
He says currently, about 99 percent of all cases are the delta variant in Utah. The delta variant is responsible for the increase in breakthrough cases the state is seeing, along with high transmission rates.
Oakeson is concerned as a new COVID-19 spike would overwhelm Utah’s hospitals, which are already running at or near capacity. A surge of new cases could push hospitals well past capacity.
“No one’s safe until everyone’s safe,” says Pavia. He stresses the importance of vaccinations for everyone, not just in our country, but across the globe as the variant continues traveling.