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Breakthrough deaths are making up a larger portion of those who have died from COVID-19, according to a new analysis from ABC News.
That means more COVID-19 deaths are occurring among those who are vaccinated against the coronavirus. But public health experts say that should be expected as more Americans reach full vaccination status.
“These data should not be interpreted as vaccines not working,” John Brownstein, PhD, an epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, told ABC News.
“In fact, these real-world analyses continue to reaffirm the incredible protection these vaccines afford, especially when up to date with boosters,” he said.
In August 2021, about 19% of COVID-19 deaths occurred among vaccinated people. Six months later, by February 2022, the proportion had increased to more than 40%.
What’s more, about 1.1% of COVID-19 deaths occurred among Americans who were fully vaccinated and boosted in September 2021. By February 2022, that increased to about 25%.
Even so, in February, unvaccinated adults were 10 times more likely to die of COVID-19, compared to vaccinated adults, and five more times likely to require hospitalization, ABC News reported. Compared to fully vaccinated and boosted adults, unvaccinated people were about 20 times more likely to die of COVID-19 and seven times more likely to require hospitalization.
As of Wednesday, more than 220 million Americans had been fully vaccinated, according to the latest CDC data, and 101 million had received their first booster shot. About 91.5 million eligible Americans — about half of those who are now eligible — hadn’t gotten their first booster shot.
Breakthrough deaths appear to be rising as a growing proportion of older Americans are hospitalized for COVID-19, ABC News reported. After older adults had received their vaccinations last spring and summer, the number of hospital patients over age 65 dropped to a pandemic low. But the average age has risen again throughout the Omicron variant and subvariant waves.
More than 90% of seniors have been fully vaccinated, according to CDC data, and about 69% have received a booster shot. Even with high vaccination rates, about 73% of COVID-19 deaths were among ages 65 and older during the Omicron surge, ABC News reported.
Vaccines and booster shots continue to provide significant protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death, Brownstein said. But waning immunity from vaccines and previous infections, along with variants containing new mutations, can reduce protection against a coronavirus infection.
Older adults and high-risk Americans should receive more doses, Brownstein said. About 10.5 million people in the U.S. have received their second booster shot, according to CDC data.
All Americans over the age of 50 are eligible for a second booster dose, as well as immunocompromised people over age 12 and those who received two doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“This trend in increased risk among the elderly further supports the need for community-wide immunization,” Brownstein said. “Older populations, especially those with underlying conditions, continue to be at great risk for severe complications, especially as immunity wanes.”
ABC News: “Breakthrough deaths comprise increasing proportion of those who died from COVID-19.”
CDC: “COVID Data Tracker: COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States.”