As the coronavirus continues to surge across the United States, hospitals are again filling up with ill COVID-19 patients. And the vast majority of those patients are unvaccinated, as two new charts help make exceedingly clear.
One of those charts shows that from January 24 to July 24, vaccinated individuals were hospitalized with COVID-19 at a much lower cumulative rate than unvaccinated individuals. And the difference in rates between the two groups has only grown over time. By late July, a total of about 26 adults per 100,000 vaccinated people had been hospitalized for COVID-19. That’s compared with about 431 hospitalized people for every 100,000 unvaccinated individuals — a rate roughly 17 times as high as for those who were vaccinated. The data come from 13 states, including California, Georgia and Utah.
The gap in the cumulative hospitalization rates among unvaccinated and fully vaccinated adults 18 years and older has been growing since COVID-19 vaccines started rolling out in late 2020. The data were adjusted for age and come from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and Utah.
That trend held when the researchers charted hospitalization rates on a weekly basis too. From January to July, weekly hospitalization rates among unvaccinated people were six to 31 times as high as those in vaccinated people, the researchers report August 29 at medRxiv.org.
The accumulation of hospitalizations in each group over time, which that first chart shows, illustrates the risk of developing severe COVID-19 overall. And its message is clear: If you’re vaccinated during this pandemic, your risk of hospitalization is much, much lower than if you’re not vaccinated. The weekly rate, on the other hand, is a bit like the speedometer on a car — providing a glimpse of what’s happening week by week as the coronavirus spreads. Its message is also clear: The risk of a vaccinated person becoming hospitalized remains low at any given time, while the risk for unvaccinated people can fluctuate, probably as a result of community transmission.
Since January, weekly COVID-19 hospitalization rates have fluctuated in unvaccinated people but have been consistently higher than in vaccinated people. For instance, as the delta variant became the dominant variant in June, hospitalizations of unvaccinated adults 18 years and older spiked while rates for vaccinated remained steady and low. The data were adjusted for age and come from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and Utah.
The findings, along with other recent research out of Los Angeles County, “remind us that if you are not yet vaccinated, you are among those highest at risk,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said August 24 in a White House news briefing. “Please do not underestimate the risk of serious consequences of this virus.”
As of August 26, more than 100,000 people are hospitalized for COVID-19 in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — a level not seen since January amid the winter surge.
A separate study, described August 24 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, that focused on Los Angeles County also showed that while COVID-19 vaccines don’t always stop infections, the shots still prevent people from landing in the hospital. That’s even with the spread of the highly contagious delta variant, which has raised concerns among public health officials because some vaccinated people who get infected can transmit the coronavirus to others (SN: 7/30/21).
On July 25, when the delta variant was prevalent in the county, unvaccinated people were nearly 30 times as likely to be hospitalized as vaccinated people, the researchers found. Only one vaccinated person for every 100,000 people was hospitalized for COVID-19. Among unvaccinated people, there were around 29 hospitalizations per 100,000 individuals. In that same study, unvaccinated people were five times as likely to be infected as vaccinated people.
While the vaccines don’t protect against infection as well as they do against severe disease, the shots are keeping people off ventilators and from dying, Kathryn Edwards, an infectious disease pediatrician at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, said August 26 in a news briefing sponsored by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. “We cannot lose the forest for the trees.”