More vaccinated than unvaccinated died from COVID-19 in August: analysis

Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is the best way to stay out of the hospital and to stay alive, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and most medical experts.

That hasn’t changed. Further, the CDC encourages people to get the new bivalent vaccine against omicron’s sub-variants, though uptake of that vaccine has been slow, with a little more than 11% of Americans getting it.

Vaccination matters even as it comes to light that more people who’d been vaccinated against COVID-19 died in August than those who’d not been vaccinated, according to an analysis by Cynthia Cox, vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). Cox undertook the analysis for The Health 202, which is published by The Washington Post.

The newspaper reports that 58% of coronavirus deaths in August occurred in people who’d been vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2. Experts stress that despite this finding, an individual’s chances of dying from COVID-19 is much greater if they’re unvaccinated.

vaccinations in U.S. COVID

The fact that more vaccinated people die from COVID than unvaccinated is partly because 80.7% of the population in the U.S. has had at least one dose of vaccine, according to the CDC. Actuarially, that would drive higher numbers of COVID fatalities among the vaccinated. In addition, COVID-19 still preys mainly on individuals 65 and older. According to KFF, “people 65 and older account for 16% of the total U.S. population but 75% of all COVID deaths.” Such individuals are more likely to suffer from comorbidities.

The Post reports that another reason for the increase in fatalities among the vaccinated is that “vaccines lose potency against the virus over time and variants arise that are better able to resist the vaccines, so continued boosters are needed to continue to prevent illness and death.”

Nov. 26 marked the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization labeling omicron a variant of concern, and The New York Times reports that “rather than a single lineage, the variant has exploded into hundreds, each with resistance to our immune defenses and its own alphanumeric name, like XBB, BQ.1.1 and CH.1.”

Jesse Bloom, Ph.D., a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, tells the Times that this makes it more challenging for scientists to create new vaccines and treatments. The paper cites the discovery of XBB in a study by researchers at Peking University that had not yet been peer-reviewed. XBB appears to be resistant to antibodies in the blood of individuals who had been vaccinated or had prior infection. That means that monoclonal antibodies, one of the more successful treatments against COVID-19, will possibly no longer be effective.

Bloom tells the Times that “I can’t really be confident whether or not monoclonal antibodies will play a major role in treatment going forward. It’s going to be really important to design another generation of antibody cocktails that hopefully stand up longer.”

Despite these worrisome developments, the best advice right now remains: Get vaccinated.

That’s the message Anthony Fauci, M.D., gave last week in his retirement statement as he urged the population to get the bivalent vaccination.

“The final message I give you from this podium is that please, for your own safety, for that of your family, get your updated COVID-19 shot as soon as you’re eligible,” he said.