DPH finds low rate of severe illness among vaccinated individuals

Case rates, deaths also higher among unvaccinated population

THE MASSACHUSETTS DEPARTMENT of Public Health released a report Monday showing that despite recent increases in breakthrough COVID-19 cases, vaccines remain generally effective in preventing cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.  

While the state has been producing reports weekly about the numbers of breakthrough cases, the latest DPH report is the first time that the state has publicly analyzed cases per capita, which is a better measure of how likely an unvaccinated person is to get COVID compared to a vaccinated person. 

The report looked at data from October 31 to December 4, a time when there were on average 244 weekly cases per 100,000 individuals in the state. The unvaccinated population got COVID at a rate of 640 cases per 100,000, while the rate was 145 per 100,000 in fully vaccinated individuals, and just 21 per 100,000 in those who had gotten a booster dose. 

While vaccinated people have consistently had lower case rates than the unvaccinated, the data show that, even as breakthrough cases started climbing quickly in November, case rates among the unvaccinated population shot up even more quickly to higher levels.  

In the week ending December 4, an unvaccinated individual was five times more likely to test positive than a fully vaccinated person, and 31 times more likely to test positive than someone who had gotten a booster shot. The DPH data does not provide exact numbers for these rates and a spokesperson did not respond to a request for the numbers. But based on a chart, there appear to be around 1,250 COVID cases per 100,000 population among unvaccinated people the week of November 28, compared to around 250 in the vaccinated population and maybe 40 in the boosted population. 

The report also found that vaccines continue to be highly protective against hospitalization and death. The number of breakthrough cases has shot up since October. The state’s latest report identified 88,968 breakthrough cases as of December 4. But over the last year, only 0.7 percent of individuals with breakthrough cases died and another 2.5 percent were hospitalized. (The report did not provide comparable death or hospitalization rates for the population at large.) Almost all the COVID breakthrough deaths were reported among people age 60 and up, which is consistent with the fact that COVID has generally affected older adults more severely. 

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Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Much of the data was collected before the Omicron variant began spreading quickly. 

“The data are clear,” Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said in a statement. “This review shows that fully vaccinated people in Massachusetts have near-universal protection from severe illness and death and that boosters are demonstrating even stronger protection from COVID.”