COVID-19 Vaccines Continue Saving Lives, Keeping More Pennsylvanians Out of Hospital

The Pennsylvania Department of Health released a report Oct. 8 on COVID-19 post-vaccination events, commonly known as “breakthrough” cases, showing that the vaccines continue to save lives and keep more people out of the hospital.

“What we continue to see is that the vaccines that are widely available to everyone 12 and older are highly effective for preventing hospitalizations and deaths, even as more post-vaccination cases occur in the context of more transmissible variants,” Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said in releasing the latest Pennsylvania data as further evidence of the vaccines’ effectiveness.

Acting Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson explained, “From a clinical perspective, we expect to see the number of breakthrough cases go up as more people get vaccinated. It is like what we saw with seat belt use years ago. As the number of people wearing seatbelts increased, the number of car accidents involving people wearing seatbelts went up. However, the overall fatality rate from car accidents dropped. Your chances of dying in a car accident drop dramatically if you wear a seatbelt. So too, your chances of dying from COVID-19 drop substantially if you are fully vaccinated.”

This month’s data shows that Pennsylvanians who are fully vaccinated fared much better than the unvaccinated even as the more infectious COVID-19 variant continues to dominate the nation.

In the past month, 74 percent of the 4,989 hospitalizations due to COVID-19 were among unvaccinated Pennsylvanians.

“That means that fully vaccinated people have a greater than three times better chance of staying out of the hospital due to COVID-19,” Dr. Johnson said. “Another way to look at it, if you are playing the lottery and there is something you could do to triple your odds of hitting the jackpot, would you do it?”

“This is why doctors across the state want all of their eligible patients to get vaccinated,” she said. “Vaccination substantially increases their odds of avoiding COVID-19 and staying out of the hospital where our healthcare workers are already overwhelmed.”

Looking at the number of COVID-19 cases over the past 30 days shows that 74 percent of the 135,098 people who tested positive were unvaccinated. Data on the number of post-vaccination deaths in the past 30 days is not yet available due to a 60-day lag in the reporting and verification process. Year-to-date data is provided below.

When reviewing longer-term data, between Jan. 1, and Oct. 4, 2021:

  • 91 percent of reported COVID-19 cases were in unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated people. Among a total of 771,734 cases, 69,822, or nine percent, have been identified as post-vaccination cases. Cumulative case incidence among the unvaccinated and not fully vaccinated was 5.6 times higher than the case incidence among the fully vaccinated.
  • 93 percent of reported hospitalizations with COVID-19 as the primary diagnosis/cause of admission were in unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated people.Among a total of 44,095 hospitalizations with COVID-19 as the primary diagnosis/cause of admission reported in Pennsylvania, 3,247, or 7 percent, of all hospitals and 78 percent of acute care hospitals in Pennsylvania, representing approximately 80 percent of acute care beds in the state.
  • 93 percent of COVID-19-related deaths were in unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated people.Among a total of 7,625 COVID-19-related deaths occurring among 2021 COVID-19 cases, the latest data shows 518, or seven percent, were identified as deaths among post-vaccination cases. Cumulative death incidence among the unvaccinated and not fully vaccinated was 6.0 times higher than the death incidence among the fully vaccinated.

“Reviewing this data over time helps inform our understanding of factors such as potential waning immunity,” Dr. Johnson said. “This data is consistent with national trends and similar to data reviewed by the FDA and CDC resulting in a recommendation for a booster dose for vulnerable populations several months following the completion of the primary vaccination series.

“What is completely clear to me is that vaccines are working as intended to help keep more people out of the hospital and alive after COVID-19,” Dr. Johnson said. “Because I know it can save their lives, I have encouraged all of my family, friends and others to get vaccinated and, when they are eligible, to get a booster dose.”

Post-vaccination data is now posted online at: PA Post-Vaccination Data.