Yale New Haven Health: This Year, Get a Flu Shot; Omicron Will Likely Become Dominant Variant; Patients Delaying Care Due to the Pandemic

Wednesday was a milestone for Yale New Haven Health System. It was one year to the day they received their first doses of Covid-19 vaccine and vaccinated a half dozen medical staff.

As of Wednesday there were 210 Covid patients across the system’s hospitals.

A year ago there were 437.

Of the 210 patients, this week, 51 were in ICU; 24 were on ventilators.

Breakdown of cases:

• 56 in Bridgeport Hospital

• 9 in Greenwich Hospital

• 13 Westerly Hospital

• 20 Lawrence and Memorial in New London

“Still, very sick people,” said Yale New Haven Health System CEO Marna Borgstrom during Wednesday’s press conference. “For those of us who think of Covid as a chronic disease, we are losing people to Covid every single week across the health system.”

She said patients in the ICUs were mostly older and unvaccinated.

“Getting to 100% vaccination to everyone who can get it is going to be critical,” she said.

“More than 75% of Covid patients consistently are the unvaccinated,” said Dr. Tom Balcezak, Chief Clinical Officer of Yale New Haven Health System.

Delaying Care Due to the Pandemic

Balcezak said people who have delayed care due to the pandemic has led to patients presenting with later stages of disease.

“There are more people who have had strokes and not sought care, and are now being seen in neurologists and other kids of doctor’s offices that have had the unfortunate effects of that stroke. There are people who have had heart attacks at home, and other types of vascular disease, that have not sought care, and are now presenting with heart failure and other complications.”

Balcezak said there are people presenting with perforated cancers from undiagnosed colon cancer because they have waited too long to have screening colonoscopies.

“These are the kinds of things we are seeing across the United States,” he said.

Flu Shots Recommended

On the topic of flu, Balcezak said Last year there were no flu cases, but this year is a different story.

“If you don’t normally get a flu shot, this year is a good year to get one,” he said.

“We are also seeing an uptick in flu,” he added, noting it was worrisome because it is the H3N2 variant, which has caused more disease in previous years. “It may portend a busy flu season this year.”

Omicron Variant

Balcezak said it was too early to come to conclusions about the efficacy of the Covid vaccine against the Omicron variant, but that it did appear to be quite infectious.

“There does seem to be good reason to be concerned, so get your booster,” he said.

“It seems more likely to spread. It may be slightly less dangerous than Delta,” Balcezak said. “And it does appear that Omicron is able to invade the immune system to some extent in people who are fully vaccinated, meaning the vaccine is somewhat less effective against Omicron.”

Balcezak said he anticipates an uptick in the number of cases after the holidays.

“As the Omicron variant spreads, and since it may be more infectious, it will probably become the dominant variant at some point. Right now, across the Yale New Haven Health System, about 10% of our positive cases are Omicron,” he said. But, he added, “Delta is still the predominant variant.”

Ms Borgstrom said that on a personal matter, while she was fully vaccinated and boosted, she still wears a mask when she goes to the grocery story or pharmacy.

“I think it’s an important safety precaution to take, and I hope more people will do that.”

More Cases, but Falling Mortality Rate

• In 2020 across the US there were 20.6 million cases and 370,000 deaths , for a mortality rate of 1.8%

• In 2021 there were 30.4 million cases, and 449,000 deaths in the US, which is a mortality rate of 1.5%.

“So the mortality rate is actually falling, but there were 10 million more cases,” Balcezak said. “So the rate is going down, and that has to be because of our vaccination rates.”

Future of Covid

“We’ve got another year or so of what we’ve been living with,” Balcezak said. “Hopefully we’ve learned about public health measures specific to Covid, and we can blunt future waves more substantially than in the past, and learn to live with those waves and ways we can blunt them.”