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Ohioans who skip new COVID-19 booster are taking 'unnecessary risks,' state's top doc says

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It's important to get the new COVID-19 booster because the virus has mutated since the beginning of the pandemic, said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the director of the Ohio Department of Health. The booster is formulated to protect against the newer strains of the virus that are currently circulating, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The amount of severe illness caused by respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19 is decreasing in Ohio, but the state's health director said too many people are skipping the new booster and unnecessarily risking serious disease or death at a time when the coronavirus is still circulating.

“COVID-19 is still very real,” said the Ohio Department of Health's director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, during a press conference Friday. “It’s still posing a serious risk and too many people who could be protected are not. If you’re not boosted with the bivalent booster, consider going out today to get that shot.”

The most recent updated booster against COVID-19, which was released in August, is especially important for older people, he said.

One hundred Ohioans are still dying of COVID-19 per week, Vanderhoff said. Most of those deaths have been among older residents. Nearly 85% of fatalities due to COVID-19 are among those 65 and older, according to ODH.

It’s especially important for this population to stay up to date on boosters even if they are otherwise in good health because the immunity that vaccines bring fades more quickly for older people, he said.

“It is so important to remain updated on your shot series,” said Dr. Tanya R. Gure, a geriatric specialist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “We know the uptake within the state has not been great.“

Only 15% have received the updated booster, and only about 41% of those 65 or older have received it, according to ODH.

“It means too many of us are taking unnecessary risks,” Vanderhoff said.

The updated bivalent booster is effective against the currently dominant variant, XBB.1.5, which is circulating in Ohio, Vanderhoff said.

In addition, if a person is infected there is a medication called Paxlovid available that helps prevent serious illness, he said. People need a prescription to get it, so patients – especially high-risk patients – should talk to their doctors before they get sick. The medication has to be taken shortly after symptoms start.

Vaccines are readily available at pharmacies across the state, Vanderhoff said. Older Ohioans looking for help getting the shots can call 866-243-5678 for more information or visit gettheshot.coronavirus.ohio.gov.

Stephanie is the deputy editor of news at Ideastream Public Media.