Examining vaccine effectiveness, 3 years after Michigan’s first COVID-19 cases
MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - This month marks three years since the first COVID-19 cases were discovered in Michigan.
Coronavirus deaths are still happening weekly but at a significantly lower rate than seen early on in the pandemic. The first COVID-19 vaccines became available in late 2020. The latest data from the CDC shows their effectiveness at preventing death.
“We are collecting data in our surveillance system, so our system is called MDSS and we collect data on things like hospitalizations and deaths, and we can link that to vaccination status and we have this data that we not only are collecting here in the state, but that we’re sharing with the CDC so that they can really paint some national pictures on what’s happening,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s Chief Medical Executive.
To understand current vaccine effectiveness, Dr. Bagdasarian points to national data. CDC numbers show from the start of 2022 to the end of the year, rates of COVID-19 deaths dropped for both unvaccinated people and those vaccinated without the updated booster.
“Not only do we have an incredibly effective vaccine and we are on our next generation vaccine, the bivalent booster, but we also have tools like over the counter tests where people can test earlier get diagnosed earlier,” said Dr. Bagdasarian. “We also have therapeutics. We have oral antiviral therapies that are extremely effective and so the landscape has changed.”
Here’s more from the latest CDC data: The risk of death from COVID-19 is 9.8 times lower for vaccinated adults with an updated booster compared to unvaccinated people. The risk of death from COVID-19 is 2.4 times lower for vaccinated adults with an updated booster compared to people vaccinated without the updated booster.
“There’s a lot of data out there that suggest even though we have other tools, not just the vaccines, the vaccines really remain our bedrock or our pillar in terms of protection against COVID,” said Dr. Bagdasarian.
The CDC reports this data about COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in ratios rather than the percentage of vaccinated or unvaccinated people. The CDC says reporting by ratios is more stable and directly related to vaccine effectiveness. That’s because the percentage of vaccinated people among COVID-19 cases rises as vaccination coverage increases or vaccine effectiveness decreases.
“The vast majority of patients who are in the hospital today with COVID-19 are over the age of 65,” said Dr. Bagdasarian. “And when we look at those hospitalized patients and we look at risk for those who are unvaccinated versus vaccinated, we know that if you are unvaccinated, you have a 16 times higher risk of ending up in the hospital than someone who is fully vaccinated or up to date on vaccines.”
COVID-19 cases and deaths remained relatively low in the U.S. through the end of 2022. While 81% of the U.S. population has received at least one COVID-19 vaccination dose, only 17% of people ages five and older have received an updated bivalent booster dose.
“It has to do with how you interpret risk and how you how you personalize risk, and if you want to decrease the risk of dying or being hospitalized from COVID, you’ll want to be vaccinated,” said Dr. Robert Van Howe, the provisional medical director of the Western U.P. Health Department.
Dr. Van Howe says coronavirus vaccine effectiveness will continue to be studied.
“We’re always behind the game as far as getting numbers, so what we want to know is how well the vaccines are working at the new variants that are coming out,” said Dr. Van Howe. “And so we have seen somewhat of a pattern when a new variant comes out; there’s a lot of speculation and a lot of pipe about how bad it can be, and sometimes it’s not as bad as they thought.”
CDC expert advisors say there is not sufficient evidence right now to recommend more than one COVID-19 booster shot a year for older people and those with weakened immune systems.
As we start our fourth year of a world with COVID-19, Dr. Van Howe says one of the most important messages to share, continues to be: if you feel sick, stay home.
To find weekly COVID-19 updates from Upper Michigan, click here.
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