Friday 3 September 2021

What the Highly-Vaccinated States Are Showing Us

How between July 6 and August 31, the number of active cases of COVID-19 infection in the state of Vermont increased twenty-three-fold – from 114 to 2,668. But as dire as that sounds, the state is not really in a public health crisis – hospitalizations and daily new deaths remain low in Vermont, in large part because the state is heavily vaccinated. (It also helps that Vermont is one the least-populated states in the country.)

It’s a mostly but not entirely similar situation in the higher-populated, more urban state next door. Massachusetts ranks third in the country in percentage of total population that is fully vaccinated, at 66.1 percent – and remember, this figure includes kids 11 and under who can’t get vaccinated. Massachusetts ranks second in the country in percentage of total population that has one dose, at more than 75 percent. By August 31, every county in Massachusetts had at least 68 percent of eligible people – those age 12 and over – vaccinated. And an astounding 99 percent of Massachusetts senior citizens are vaccinated.

Once again, we see that high vaccination dates do not prevent the Delta variant from infecting lots of people in a state. On July 6, Massachusetts had 1,349 active cases of COVID-19 infection; by August 31, the state had 34,671 active cases, a twenty-five-fold increase. It cannot be emphasized enough; vaccination does not prevent infection and cases, and an increase in cases is not necessarily a reflection of low vaccination rates in an area.

Despite really high vaccination rates, some corners of Massachusetts have seen their hospitals feeling strained – although it’s worth noting a few weeks ago, at least one hospital system said the cancellation of some elective surgeries and high capacity was “not related specifically to a sharp rise in COVID-19 or delta variant cases.”

As of today, Massachusetts has 595 patients hospitalized for COVID-19, 158 patients in ICUs, and 99 patients are intubated. That may not seem like a lot, but it’s enough to strain at least some hospital systems: “Springfield-based Baystate Health has 18 percent of the state’s cases but just 5.5 percent of the state’s hospital beds, leadership said Thursday… Hampden County, where Springfield is located, has just a 52 percent vaccination rate, compared to 66 percent for the state as a whole. Three-quarters of Baystate’s hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated.”

Now, if Massachusetts, with its near-best vaccination rates, can find itself with strained hospital systems, every other state is almost certain to find itself with similar or worse problems. As much as people may enjoy a simple morality play of good blue states and bad red states, the lesson is that Delta will cut through every population, and even having a small percentage of eligible people unvaccinated can result in open beds in hospitals disappearing fast.

It is also worth emphasizing that while a COVID-19-related hospitalization of fully-vaccinated people is exceptionally rare in terms of the percentage of all vaccinated people, in large enough population, fully-vaccinated people with a bad reaction to COVID-19 can still occupy a decent amount of beds.

As of August 28, Massachusetts had more than 4.4 million fully vaccinated people; among them, there have been 19,443 diagnosed cases in vaccinated people; 651 of those cases resulted in hospitalization, and 144 cases resulted in death. That comes out to about four-tenths of one percent of vaccinated people have tested positive, one one-hundredth of one percent of fully vaccinated people have been hospitalized, and three one-hundredths of one percent of fully vaccinated people have died. The message is still the same, full vaccination will almost always keep you out of the hospital from a COVID-19 infection. But a state as populated as Massachusetts is always going to have some beds being occupied by fully-vaccinated COVID-19 patients.

One other point – while Vermont and Massachusetts are leading the way, the rest of the country is, day by day, continuing to catch up. Across the United States, 73 percent of those eligible – meaning those 12 and up – have received at least one shot; 62 percent are fully vaccinated. We haven’t just picked the low-hanging fruit, we’ve picked the middle-hanging fruit, too.

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