KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In an otherwise routine morning of providing a medical update to the people of Kansas City, Dr. Steven Stites, chief medical officer at The University of Kansas Health System, once again stressed the importance of vaccination ahead of holiday gatherings.
Joining the conversation from home as he is currently infected with COVID, Stites highlighted how mild his case has been thanks to the bivalent booster vaccine.
“Does it prevent infection? Yes, but at a rate of about 40-50%. Does it prevent severe disease, hospitalization and death? Highly effective, and that’s the reason to get this booster,” said medical update guest Dr. Gregory Poland, vaccinologist and director of the Mayo Clinic Vaccine Research Group.
At this time, more than 90% of COVID deaths affect elderly adults.
While the older population was at the front of the line to receive their primary series of the COVID vaccine, many have not received a bivalent booster. And over time, immunity fades.
Late November numbers show only 1/3 of people over 65 have received bivalent boosters.
The challenge of the ever-evolving virus is that new variants like XBB are becoming increasingly immune-evasive, meaning whether an individual has been infected, vaccinated or both, the variant is able to get around immunity as it wanes.
For those who criticize the vaccine’s effectiveness based on “break-through” infections, Poland explained that as more of the population becomes vaccinated, the more likely it is vaccinated individuals will become infected.
As of Friday, The University of Kansas Health System reports it is treating 61 total COVID patients: 43 active, 11 in an intensive care unit and two on ventilators. On Thursday, there were five patients in the ICU and no patients on the ventilator.
To best prevent spreading illness as holiday gatherings increase, both Poland and Stites recommend shaking off "COVID fatigue" and readopting the practices of testing before gatherings and properly masking.
In Kansas City, the community level was reported to be at medium on Dec. 3. The medium category suggests speaking with a healthcare provider about masking or other precautions for those at high risk.
Besides COVID, high levels of flu, cold and RSV have infected residents in the area, leaving some pharmacies low on product partially due to short supply as well.
Watch the full Dec. 9 medical update below: