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Expect to need additional vaccinations against COVID-19, experts say

Utah reports just 221 new COVID-19 cases and no new deaths Monday

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Utah National Guard soldier Ebbin Wyatt administers a COVID-19 at the Utah State Fairpark in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 8, 2021.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Medical experts are saying regular booster shots likely will be needed against COVID-19 variants.

“We have to appreciate that we were always going to have to have booster doses; immunity to coronavirus doesn’t last forever,” Sharon Peacock, head of COVID-19 Genomics UK, which has sequenced nearly half of all the novel coronavirus genomes so far mapped globally, told Reuters news service Monday.

Peacock called it a “cat-and-mouse” battle with the novel coronavirus that mutates around once every two weeks, slower than influenza or HIV, but enough to require tweaks to vaccines, according to the wire service. She said she was confident that regular booster shots, similar to annual flu shots, would be needed.

“We already are tweaking the vaccines to deal with what the virus is doing in terms of evolution — so there are variants arising that have a combination of increased transmissibility and an ability to partially evade our immune response,” Peacock said.

The so-called U.K. variant of the virus that caused Britain to lock down earlier this year has spread the most widely across the United States. So far, 4,690 cases have been reported nationwide, including 81 in Utah, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other variants are also appearing in the U.S., but so far, not in Utah.

Dr. Todd Vento, an infectious diseases doctor at Intermountain Healthcare, said during a virtual news conference Friday that he anticipates additional vaccination against COVID-19 will be needed, but it’s too soon to say when that might be.

“We expect that we would have to do something in the future. When that future is, we don’t know yet,” Vento said, since the duration of the immunity resulting from the vaccines rolled out late last year is still being studied. Some data already suggested there may be a benefit to an additional dose of vaccines, he said.

An extra dose, he said, may raise antibody levels to protect against variants without even changing the vaccines.

The bottom line is that the current push to get Utahns vaccinated against the virus probably won’t be the last.

“I would expect, and I think people should expect, that they’ll need some sort of additional vaccine at some point in time. Whether that’s every year, every two years, or, if we get a big surge of a new type of variant, we might find that we need” modified vaccines, Vento said.

There have been 1,010,700 vaccine doses administered in the state as of Monday, a daily increase of 1,671.

So far, 365,587 Utahns are considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19, which means they’ve received either both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or the single dose of Johnson & Johnson. It takes at least two weeks for the vaccine to be fully effective.

Currently, Utahns 50 and older, those with specified medical conditions, health care workers, first responders, long-term care facility residents and staffs, and K-12 teachers and school staffs are eligible to be vaccinated. All Utah adults should be added to that list April 1.

Only 221 new COVID-19 cases and no new deaths from the virus were reported in Utah Monday.

The latest numbers from the Utah Department of Health mean the state has now reached a total of 378,600 positive cases for the novel coronavirus since the start of the pandemic just over a year ago while the death toll remains at 2,027.

The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is 503 per day, and another 3,293 Utahns have been tested and 6,382 tests conducted since Sunday. To date, nearly 2.3 million Utahns have taken more than 4 million tests for the deadly virus.

The rolling seven-day average for the percent of positive tests is 4% when all tests are included in the calculation, the state’s preferred method for helping to determine what level of restrictions are put in place, or 8.2% when multiple tests taken by an individual over the past 90 days are excluded.

There are 164 people hospitalized in Utah with COVID-19, bringing the total hospitalizations for the state to 15,129.

Monday marked the first time since mid-February that no new deaths from the virus have been reported. Utah hit the grim milestone of more than 2,000 deaths last Thursday, the first anniversary of the day the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, leading to lockdowns and other restrictions around the globe.