UW Health experts stress effectiveness of booster shots in fighting COVID-19

UW Health University Hospital

MADISON, Wis. — Within the past week, Dane County and Wisconsin have both set records for new COVID-19 cases, due in large part to the rapidly spreading Omicron variant.

While breakthrough cases are becoming more common among those who are vaccinated, experts with UW Health stressed that vaccinations are still the best way to prevent severe illness from the virus. Getting a booster shot adds an even greater layer of protection, according to Dr. Dan Shirley, interim medical director of infection control at UW Health and associate professor of medicine at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

“Data also suggest that receiving a booster dose increases the vaccine effectiveness against omicron to similar levels that were previously seen against delta,” Dr. Shirley, said. “This includes increasing the protection dramatically for those who had previous infection.”

RELATED: ‘We’re hitting our limits’: Madison hospitals stretched to capacity as COVID-19 continues to surge

According to the CDC, data from South Africa and the United Kingdom shows that vaccine effectiveness against infection from Omicron is roughly 35%. A COVID-19 booster shot brings that effectiveness against infection back to 75%.

Those who are unvaccinated don’t have that same level of protection against infection and have even less protection against severe disease and death, according to the CDC.

A recent surge in cases — and subsequent hospitalizations — has pushed some local hospitals to their breaking point. In some cases, health care providers have had to deny care to some because they’re too overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

Local experts said the majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the most recent surge have been among those who are unvaccinated.

RELATED: ‘All hands on deck’: PHMDC bringing COVID-19 testing back to Alliant Energy Center amid Omicron surge