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Vaccines Offer Some Protection Against Omicron, With Most Deaths, Hospitalizations In Unvaccinated, Officials Say

"... Vaccines luckily continue to protect against severe outcomes, especially when people get that booster," Dr. Allison Arwady said amid the Omicron surge.

Irma from Tinley Park receives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Esperanza Health Centers, 6057 S. Western Ave., on Nov. 4, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots still appear to offer some protection against the Omicron variant, officials said Tuesday.

Breakthrough cases of COVID-19 remain uncommon in fully vaccinated people — and it’s the unvaccinated who are still seeing the vast majority of serious cases and who are dying, officials said at a news conference. They urged people to get their shots and announced the city will start requiring some businesses to check patrons’ vaccination status in a big to slow the virus’s spread.

The announcement came as Chicago is seeing a major increase in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, driven by the Delta variant and, more recently, by Omicron, which is thought to be more contagious.

But it’s still unvaccinated people who are getting the most serious cases, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at the Tuesday afternoon news conference.

It’s likely everyone in Chicago knows someone who has COVID-19 right now since the city is seeing a significant surge, Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said at the news conference.

And it’s possible some of those people who are currently sick were fully vaccinated or had previously recovered from COVID-19, but they’ve gotten the virus again “because Omicron is much more contagious” than the prior variants, Arwady said.

But when those rare breakthrough cases do occur, fully vaccinated people are significantly less likely to be hospitalized or to die from COVID-19, Arwady said.

“But what the other thing that we see is that vaccines luckily continue to protect against severe outcomes, especially when people get that booster,” Arwady said.

Since vaccines became widely available, the vast majority of Chicagoans who have died from or been hospitalized with the virus were not fully vaccinated. Arwady said last week unvaccinated people who get COVID-19 have been five times as likely to die from the virus as fully vaccinated people during the recent surge.

More than 99.99 percent of Chicagoans who have gotten fully vaccinated have not died from COVID-19 — and about 99 percent have not even tested positive for the virus, Arwady said last week. In all, the city’s only had 24,652 total breakthrough cases out of nearly 1.7 million people who are fully vaccinated, Arwady said.

Researchers are still determining exactly how effective vaccines are against the Omicron variant, but getting fully vaccinated and getting a booster shot appears to offer protection against severe illness and death, Arwady has said.

Vaccine makers are also looking at developing further booster shots that would provide more protection against Omicron.

The health commissioner and other officials, including Lightfoot, have continued to urge people to get vaccinated or to help others get their shots to ensure they are protected.

“If you know someone in your family, in your friends network or just that you know that is unvaccinated, go to them,” Lightfoot said at Tuesday’s news conference. “Talk to them. Listen. Send them to the [city health department] website. Send them to the CDC to get the information. Talk to them about what it would take to get them to stop being hesitant and get vaccinated.”

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