“These data should not be interpreted as vaccines that do not work,” said an expert.
A growing proportion of COVID-19-related deaths are occurring among those vaccinated, according to a new ABC News analysis of federal data.
In August 2021, approximately 18.9% of COVID-19 deaths occurred among vaccinees. Six months later, in February 2022, this proportional percentage of deaths had increased to more than 40%.
By comparison, in September 2021, only 1.1% of COVID-19 deaths occurred among Americans who had been fully vaccinated and boosted with their first dose. By February 2022, that percentage had risen to around 25%.
Experts said the rise in breakthrough deaths is expected with more Americans reaching fully vaccinated status.
“These data should not be interpreted as vaccines that don’t work. In fact, these real-world analyzes continue to reaffirm the incredible protection that these vaccines offer, especially when up to date with boosters,” said said Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital. and an ABC News contributor.
Additionally, many vulnerable Americans are more than a year away from their primary vaccination and have yet to receive booster doses.
To date, more than 220 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, 100 million of whom have received their first COVID-19 booster. However, about 91.5 million eligible Americans — about half of those currently eligible — have yet to receive their first booster.
The rise in breakthrough deaths comes as a growing proportion of older Americans enter hospitals for care related to COVID-19.
Last summer, after more vulnerable and older populations were vaccinated, the share of Americans aged 65 and older in hospital had fallen to a pandemic low – with younger populations representing the age groups the most important people in need of care. However, throughout the omicron push, the average age of those hospitalized with COVID-19 has steadily aged again.
More than 90% of the elderly have been fully vaccinated, but a third of them have not yet received their first booster. Even with overall high vaccination rates in older populations, in recent months during the omicron surge, 73% of deaths occurred among people 65 and older.
Health experts said vaccines and boosters continue to provide significant protection against serious illnesses. However, waning immunity again underscores the urgency of boosting older Americans and high-risk Americans with additional doses.
“This trend of increased risk in the elderly further reinforces the need for community-wide vaccination. Older populations, particularly those with underlying conditions, continue to be at risk of high risk of serious complications, especially as immunity wanes. The best way to protect them is to make sure everyone around them is fully immune,” Brownstein said.
All Americans over 50, immunocompromised people over 12, and people who have received two doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine are currently eligible for a second booster.
About 10.5 million people in the United States have received their second booster dose.
“Since immunity is decreasing, we need to stimulate people,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told GBH News’ Boston Public Radio on Monday.
In February, unvaccinated adults were 10 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than vaccinated people and five times more likely to require hospitalization, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Compared to fully vaccinated and boosted adults, unvaccinated people were about 20 times more likely to die from COVID-19 and seven times more likely to require hospitalization.