GENEVA – As COVID-19 cases increase in Kane County and throughout the state, the number of patients hospitalized at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital is also increasing.
And instead of elderly patients, which made up a majority of those hospitalized with the virus earlier in the pandemic, the new wave of hospitalizations has been among younger people, said Dr. Jay Liu, infectious disease specialist at Delnor Hospital.
“The distribution of patients is younger now, there are more 40-year-olds as opposed to 80-year-olds, and almost all are unvaccinated,” Liu said about the hospitalized patients. “Patients are asking to get the vaccine now, and unfortunately, that’s not a complete understanding of how vaccines work. I tell them that we have things to help, but that getting the vaccine now won’t cure or shorten the course of the disease. I encourage them to get the vaccine once they recover. I’m more concerned now than I was a month ago.”
Liu said that while he does not know if many of the patients he sees are infected with the more contagious Delta variant that has been increasing in Illinois, but he is worried that it is “picking up the pace,” especially among the unvaccinated.
The current vaccines have been shown to be effective against the Delta variant, Liu said, and natural immunity from a previous COVID-19 infection may not provide as much protection against it as would a vaccine.
“Vaccines stimulate the immune system to respond to a virus, while natural immunity is particular to a variant,” he explained. “[Natural immunity] will give you some protection against variants, but vaccine immunity is broader, which is why we tell people who’ve had COVID to get the vaccine, because they may not have immunity to a variant they didn’t have. Vaccine immunity gives a broader response and gives you more protection against variants of the virus.”
Liu said that vaccination remains the only way out of the pandemic, and that vaccine hesitancy remains a challenge.
“If the virus is still spreading unchecked, eventually a variant will be much more resistant to vaccine – and we’ll keep having to get boosters,” he said. “I still have hope that people will continue to get vaccinated. [Outbreaks] will continue to happen as long as a portion of the population is unvaccinated. [The virus] hasn’t gone away, and it won’t go away. I think we’ll only have it under control when a large portion of the world is vaccinated.”
As for breakthrough cases, which is when a fully vaccinated person contracts COVID-19, Liu said that they are to be expected. He said that vaccinated hospital patients are usually people who are immunocompromised.
“Vaccines don’t promise 100% immunity, and the early trials suggest [they offer] 90% immunity, so you’ll still have cases,” he explained. “But the benefit of vaccination is to not only prevent infections, but to keep you from getting seriously ill. It would be great if COVID just became like a standard cold, but we’re not there yet. There are still therapeutics being developed, so there’s hope that we could get there – between decreased severity of illness and better therapeutics – so it could be controlled, even if it may not be gone.”
The bottom line? Liu said that everyone who is eligible should get vaccinated.
“Vaccines are the only way to end the pandemic,” he said. “The end game is to get 70-80% of the population vaccinated, along with good therapeutics so very few people die or get sick. We have to consider our fellow man, and I think that sometimes that gets lost when people think about the vaccine – it’s not just beneficial for you.