MADISON, Wisconsin (WMTV) – A new update to the Dept. of Health Services provided insight into the benefits and limitations of the COVID-19 vaccines, particularly when someone returns to the booster dose. For the first time, the state agency shared its charts reflecting the infection, hospitalization and death rates of vaccinated and unvaccinated people between those who received the additional vaccination and those who only received their first series.
Almost counterintuitively, people in Wisconsin who returned months later for the extra dose had a significantly higher rate of infection — about 20% higher — than those who were never fully vaccinated. However, individuals who completed their first series quickly rotated the numbers by the required two-week period and thereafter saw far lower rates than either group.
But the numbers quickly turned around as DHS statistics turned to the more serious consequences of the virus: hospitalizations and deaths. In the former, a person who received the booster shot was half as likely as an unvaccinated person to end up in hospital because of the virus or its complications. Again, those who quit after their first streak fared much worse than both groups.
Experts from UW Health and SSM Health say it’s likely unvaccinated people received antibodies during the Omicron surge in December and January. Now it’s producing one-sided case numbers,” but with a far higher risk for the unvaccinated. Something that DHS’ statement also outlines in a revamped dashboard.
Bureau of Communicable Diseases Director Traci DeSalvo explained that the Omicron-induced surge, which took cases in Wisconsin to unprecedented heights, actually resulted in a low caseload among unvaccinated individuals compared to their peers. She explained that many people who were never vaccinated became infected over the winter and have borne the brunt of this two-month spike, which provides them with short-term immunity that is now protecting them but is unlikely to last long.
“Those who lose immunity from natural infection, take 100 of them, some of those people will die, they will die from the infection, you take out 100 people who have been vaccinated and boosted, 100 people die, zero people” said Dr. Jeffrey Pothof, Chief Quality Officer of UWHealth.
The gap between the unvaccinated and the vaccinated groups is exploding in terms of deaths. The number of deaths per 100,000 population is seven times higher than in either of the other two categories.
Health officials at all levels have reiterated over the past few months what the data shows – that vaccines are most effective at preventing the most severe cases of COVID-19. Its effectiveness against infections has waned, but its role in reducing hospitalizations and deaths has been highlighted.
“Efficacy in preventing death from serious illnesses has remained high, and this has been found in studies around the world,” he said during a DHS news conference Thursday. Westergaard added that the new data is an example of the agency trying to be transparent, but was quick to add: “I would not take any lessons from this data that would cause me to recommend vaccinations and booster doses less.”
However, Mo Kharbat, SSMHealth’s VP of Pharmacy Services, reminds people that a vaccine is not a guarantee of perfect health, but a tool that equips your body to fight a virus.
“Everyone needs to know if you get the vaccine, it doesn’t mean you will never catch COVID,” Kharbat said.
Kharbat says while the case numbers and probable case numbers show a lopsided trend in favor of not taking the vaccine, looking at the totality of the data paints a clearer picture. He says looking at hospitalizations and deaths validates the work the vaccine is doing across the state.
“Infection with the Omicron variant provides short-term but strong protection against re-infection,” DeSalvo said in the statement, adding, “Data show that individuals experience diminishing immunity three to six months after a vaccination or booster dose.” , yet the vaccines still provide protection against serious illness and death.”
The latest DHS update shows that more than six in 10 Wisconsin residents have completed their vaccination course, while over a third of all residents have also returned for at least one additional dose. Dane Co. continues to lead all counties in immunization rates, with nearly eight in 10 residents fully vaccinated and nearly half being boosted.
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