New report shows not fully vaccinated Montanans 3 times as likely to die from COVID-19

The report analzyed COVID-19 trends in Montana between February 7 and September 4.

By: - September 27, 2021 5:16 pm

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (Photo by Eric Seidle/ For the Daily Montanan).

Not fully vaccinated Montanans are three times more likely to be hospitalized and five times more likely to die from COVID-19 than their vaccinated counterparts, according to a new report from the Department of Public Health and Human Services analyzing recent coronavirus trends in the state.

The report’s main finding shows a grim comparison among deaths, hospitalizations, and cases between vaccinated and not fully vaccinated Montanans. Those not fully vaccinated accounted for 89.5 percent of cases, 86.8 percent of hospitalizations and 83.5 percent of deaths between Feb. 7 and Sept. 4. During that period, the state recorded 30,849 cases, 1,920 hospitalizations and 274 deaths recorded among not fully vaccinated people. Compared to 3,610 cases, 248 hospitalizations and 54 deaths among the vaccinated population in the same time.

“Clinical trials have found that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective at preventing severe COVID-19-related outcomes, such as hospitalization or death. However, no vaccines are 100% effective at preventing illness in vaccinated people. It is expected that there will be a small percentage of fully vaccinated people that will become sick, hospitalized, or die from COVID-19,” the report said. “These data indicate that COVID-19 vaccination is the best protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection and at preventing severe COVID-19 outcomes, such as hospitalization and death.”

The state reported 1,247 new cases and 28 new deaths on Monday — putting the seven-day averages, respectively, at 848 and 12. The state also reported 415 active hospitalizations Monday. State data also shows 2,158 more Montanans became fully vaccinated over the weekend, putting the total number of fully vaccinated Montanans at 485,319 — 53 percent of the state’s eligible population.

The uptick in cases correlates with the increased spread of the more infectious delta variant, DPPHS said in the report.

“Beginning in July, the [delta variant] accounted for greater than 50 percent of samples sequenced in Montana, and among specimens collected during the first two weeks of August, the Delta variant accounted for 98% of samples sequenced,” the report says.

The report also examined a recent eight-week period from July 11 to Sept. 4, which showed among all cases reported in the time frame, the case rate for not fully vaccinated Montanans was 4.4 times greater than fully vaccinated, the death rate was 3.1 times higher for the not fully vaccinated and the hospitalization rate was 5.1 times greater. During this period, according to the report, the hospitalization rate among persons not fully vaccinated increased each week and reached a peak of 6.7 times higher among persons not fully vaccinated compared with fully vaccinated persons the week ending August 28, 2021.

During the same period, adults aged 18 to 39 years had the highest number of COVID-19 cases compared with other age groups among both the fully vaccinated and not fully vaccinated. Not fully vaccinated children ages 12 to 17 had case rates 10.3 higher compared to vaccinated people in the same age group, according to the report.

The median age for deaths among not fully vaccinated Montanans during the recent eight-week period was 71-years-old, with 26-years-old being the youngest death reported. For the fully vaccinated population, the median age at death was 82-years-old, with a 53-year-old accounting for the youngest recorded death, according to the report.

The median age for hospitalizations during the eight weeks was 60 years for those not fully vaccinated, with the youngest being 13 years old and 75 years for those fully vaccinated, with a 29-year-old accounting for the youngest hospitalization, according to the report.

Gov. Greg Gianforte and the state health department have advocated vaccination against the virus but have maintained that it is a personal choice. In the report, in addition to getting vaccinated, DPPHS encouraged Montanans “to exercise personal responsibility and take precautionary measures to slow the spread of the virus, including wearing a face covering when appropriate, avoiding large crowds, staying home when not feeling well, and washing hands frequently.”

DPPHS did not respond to a question asking for clarification about when it considers mask use “appropriate” or about the role underlying health conditions play in breakthrough cases.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance states those not fully vaccinated and aged two or older should wear a mask indoors, while CDC guidance for fully vaccinated people says to wear a mask indoors in public if you live in an area of substantial or high transmission. All but four Montanan counties are considered by the CDC to be areas of high transmission. While Roosevelt County is an area of substantial transmission and Garfield, Treasure and Prairie counties are low transmission areas.

“I don’t think that’s surprising to anyone,” said the immediate past president of the Montana Medical Association and board-certified emergency medicine physician, Dr. Pamela Cutler about the report. “We know that the vaccines are so effective at preventing illness, serious illness, death, and hospitalizations, and we also know many people aren’t getting them for a variety of reasons. I think one of them is fear, but the truth is they are so effective at preventing bad things from happening to others and yourself.”

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Keith Schubert
Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. Keith was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2019. He has worked at the St.Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and most recently, the Asbury Park Press, covering everything from local craft fairs to crime and courts to municipal government to the Minnesota state legislature. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on Wisconsin sports teams and exploring small businesses. He can be reached by text or call at 406-475-2954 .