Growing share of Covid-19 deaths are among vaccinated people, but booster shots dramatically reduce risk


Since Covid-19 vaccines became widely available, there has been a wide gap in deaths between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. But recent Covid deaths are far more evenly distributed as highly transmissible variants take hold, vaccine protection wanes and booster use stagnates.

Breakthrough infections have become more common in recent months, putting vulnerable populations at increased risk of serious illness or death as more transmissible variants continue to spread. This appears to be especially true for older people in the United States, who were among the first to receive their first round of vaccines.

During the second half of September – at the height of the Delta wave – less than a quarter of all Covid-19 deaths were among people who had been vaccinated, according to federal data. But in January and February, amid the Omicron surge, more than 40% of Covid-19 deaths were among people who had been vaccinated.

Covid-19 vaccines have saved millions of lives in the United States since the first vaccine was administered in December 2020, and unvaccinated people are still far more likely to be hospitalized or die than people vaccinated with at least one vaccine. least two doses of Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccines or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

But evidence continues to mount around the critical importance of booster shots.

Among vaccinated people who died of a breakthrough case of Covid-19 in January and February, less than a third had received a booster shot, according to a CNN analysis of data from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The remaining two-thirds had only received their first set.

Overall, the risk of dying from Covid-19 is still about five times higher for unvaccinated people than for those vaccinated with at least their primary series, CDC data shows.

But there is also a significant disparity by level of vaccination: when adjusted for age, people vaccinated with only their initial series had about three times the risk of dying than those who also received their booster.

The CDC encourages people to be ‘up to date’ on Covid-19 vaccinations – which includes getting reminders at the appropriate time – but still defines a person as ‘fully vaccinated’ if they have received at least their first round of vaccinations.

But this week, a senior Biden administration official was more blunt: All adults need a third vaccine.

Vaccination is the best way for individuals to protect themselves against Covid-19, and protection is most effective with at least three injections, the official said.

Others also highlighted the importance of boosters in saving lives.

“Hardly anyone in this country should die from Covid” with up-to-date vaccinations and proper antiviral treatments, US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf told CNN Newsroom on Saturday.

“What we should really be worried about is getting the boosters we need to stay up to date, so with the new variants we have we don’t have unnecessary deaths and hospitalizations.”

In the first year of the pandemic, before vaccines became available, the vast majority of Covid-19 deaths – more than 80% – were in people aged 65 and over.

In 2021, especially during the Delta surge, the average age of people dying from Covid-19 has gotten younger. Less than 60% of those who died in September were 65 or older, according to provisional CDC data.

But 2022 is much more like 2020 and the first winter push; so far this year, around three-quarters of all Covid-19 deaths have been in the elderly.

Studies have suggested that the effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccine decreases over time. CDC data released in January found boost was 90% effective in preventing hospitalizations during a time when Omicron was the dominant variant. In comparison, getting two injections was 57% effective when at least six months had passed after the second injection.

The vast majority of seniors completed their initial series over a year ago. And although the booster intake in older people is better than in other age groups, less than two-thirds of older people received a booster shot.

The CDC now also recommends a second booster shot for this age group, and uptake is even lower.

CNN’s analysis of CDC data from the past few months suggests that the risk disparities between vaccinated people who are boosted versus those who only have their initial round are greatest among this vulnerable age group.

Daily Covid-19 deaths in the United States have fallen to a fraction of what they were in January and February amid the Omicron surge, but hundreds are still dying every day.

Cases are currently rising in almost every state, and the White House has warned that another wave over the coming fall and winter could cause 100 million new cases, raising the potential for more illnesses. serious and tragic losses.

But experts say we have the tools to make sure infections don’t turn tragic.

Getting more Americans hardened against Covid-19 could make a big difference as the country heads into fall and winter, Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said Monday.

“It’s really important that we try to get half — or a little more than half — of Americans who only got two doses to get that third dose,” he said. “It can make a difference moving forward here, and it can especially make a difference now that we are entering a new wave of Covid-19.”


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